2012 Hero: Academy of the Impossible
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2012 Hero: Academy of the Impossible

Nominated for: making education accessible, and breaking down barriers.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Out of all the U.S. election-night parties across the city on November 6, 2012, the event at Academy of the Impossible was certainly one of the most appropriate to its setting. Open for a little less than a year by the time Americans went to the polls, the 1,400-square-foot space had already hosted hundreds of nights like it. The generally progressive atmosphere at the event was in perfect keeping with the demonstrated spirit of this “open source social media enterprise.”

Hidden in the heart of the Junction Triangle, the Academy of the Impossible is a meeting ground and a place where ideas freely flourish. For the #TOpoli types that flooded 231 Wallace Avenue on election night, it was a haven. If you planned to talk through the proceedings at absurd length, and especially if you planned to do so across a spectrum of mediums, this was your space.

But as readily as you’ll find a gathering of Toronto’s under-30 policy wonks, you’ll also find martial-arts training, workshops on how best to use YouTube and social media for advocacy and outreach, readings by some of the city’s best writers and journalists, and even lectures on how to run for office, all with one purpose: supporting and empowering people who, to quote the Academy’s vision statement, “don’t fit into traditional learning institutions and experience barriers to success.”

It’s education gone truly public, and it comes at a time when such opportunities are diminishing for many, and when public empowerment is perhaps more crucial than ever. There’s a reason we see many of the same faces at City Hall and in our newspapers as we do at the Academy, and why the same tools of engagement used at City Hall are taught at the old Wallace Avenue storefront space.

Leadership and organizing skills are key. Training a new generation of community organizers is especially high on the Academy’s list of priorities. In many ways, this isn’t just a meeting ground, but a training ground. What’s being trained is the most engaged, effective, empowered, and informed public possible—all with the understanding that traditional education doesn’t go far enough. Or, more to the point, that it isn’t inclusive enough.

For much of what it offers, the Academy doesn’t expect a dime. Memberships come on a pay-as-you-can basis, which is incredible, because if there’s anything Torontonians have heard from politicians this year, it’s that we have to choose between a just, inclusive society and our wallets, or our economy. They tell us there are barriers, and that some of us simply can’t jump high enough, don’t ride fast enough, or otherwise don’t count.

Let’s hear it for the hammerstrokes, like those swung at the Academy of the Impossible, that answer those barriers.

See the other nominees in the Culture and Sports category:

Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

A rare home for first-run documentaries.
  Alex Anthopoulos

Building the Jays into a team to be reckoned with.
  Sarah Polley

Staying true to an uncompromising path.

G 98.7

Making commercial radio worth listening to again.
  The Beguiling

Supporting independent graphic arts for 25 years.

Cast Your Ballot