Stories @CSI: Regent Park Focus putting a lens on the positive with community-created media
By Lisa Ferguson, CSI Reporter
There is no doubt Regent Park is in a period of massive transformation. The revitalization of Regent Park is converting what was once Canada’s oldest and largest social housing complex into a mixed-income, mixed-use community.
But change is happening beyond the cranes and bulldozers, and has been happening long before construction started.
“I think if you search you could see many, many examples of the change that residents themselves are making,” says Adonis Huggins.
Adonis is the Executive Director of Regent Park Focus Youth Media Arts Centre (Focus), a new media, radio and television arts broadcast centre that empowers community members, youth in particular, with arts and participatory media skills to communicate local needs and priorities.
Started in 1990 in the basement of a since-demolished Toronto Community Housing apartment building, Focus was part of the Ontario government’s FOCUS Community Program aimed at promoting community health in nine vulnerable communities. Funding flowed through the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
From a new state-of-the-art production studio (just around the corner from their office in the Centre for Social Innovation Regent Park in the new Daniels Spectrum arts and cultural centre), Adonis explains that video production was originally used to engage youth because it fascinated them. Becoming camera operators, directors, producers, writers, actors and reporters provided the youth with an outlet to discuss issues relevant to them and the changes they wanted in their community.
More importantly, they shared positive stories about the community. “This community was very stereotyped,” Adonis explains. “It was really negatively perceived. But residents had a different perception. And we wanted to give them a voice to be able to represent their own community.”
From video, Focus grew to experiment with other storytelling media. Despite numerous successes—including program graduates entering or studying to enter the media industry—the organization has also faced many challenges, including the loss of one-third of its funding when the FOCUS program was cut. But Focus is “still here,” Adonis says, laughing.
“Not only are we still here, but we’re still growing and developing. We could have not built a TV station, and saved all the money, and reduced staff, but we did the opposite: poured the money in, hired more staff, and moved into this space—it’s risk-taking, for sure.”
Through a new partnership with Rogers TV, Focus will soon start programming RP60, Regent Park’s own television station. This dedicated, closed-circuit, text-based message board will help improve information flow in the community. As Adonis explains, it’s difficult to keep a community as big and as culturally diverse as Regent Park well informed. “People who’ve lived here for years don’t know some of the organizations, the services in the community, the opportunities available to them, the events going on in their arts and cultural centre, and what changes are happening, particularly with the redevelopment, until it actually hits them.”
After two decades of sharing Regent Park's positive and empowering stories within the community, Focus is now fulfilling its vision of showcasing this culturally dynamic neighbourhood to the rest of Toronto by producing Regent Park Community TV, or RPTV, a one-hour weekly program about Regent Park, to be aired (beginning May 2013) on Rogers’ Community 10 (accessible throughout the Greater Toronto Area). Additionally, the station will produce shows about Regent Park to be broadcast on the internet.
RPTV is also meant to build social inclusion within Regent Park. As the redevelopment process triples Regent Park’s population, Focus hopes RPTV will maintain a sense of community, and empower residents to participate in and contribute to the growth of their community. “People will tune in to know who their neighbours are, their customs, their languages, who’s doing what, how people are making change, and how they could get involved.”
Community members are invited to collaborate with Focus staff to bring their show ideas to life. “What it’s all about,” Adonis stresses, “is the community seeing this place as their place and not something where they have to ask to get involved. We want them to tell us what they want to do.”
If there is one thing that Adonis has learned about making social change, it’s that it must be rooted in the community. “We always wanted to go in the direction of reaching a wider audience, having more impact. So the question was, ‘How do we get there?’ Having a community that’s on board, that has a vision of where they want to go empowers you to say to your partners, ‘This is something the community wants.’”
Want to help Focus reach a wider audience? Back its campaign on CSI’s Catalyst to crowdfund $12,000 for field cameras to gather community news for the Rogers Community 10 show. In the meantime, access community-created content online at regentpark.tv and on Radio Regent (online streaming radio station), and check out Focus on Facebook and Twitter.