Art can be an effective tool to initiate constructive dialogue during challenging circumstances, a lesson applied by former Student Fellow Niyosha Keyzad, who co-founded the Scarborough Studies Collective (SSC) and convened a series of zine-making workshops to reclaim the narrative of Scarborough through the unique experiences of the local residents. Recently, in order to increase awareness about the importance of staying at home during the lockdown, the SSC launched a call for submission of e-zines, #Stayathomezinessc, to capture the physical-distancing narratives of Scarborians.
We asked Niyosha what inspired this initiative and her findings from it. Here's what she had to say:
What made you choose e-zines as tools to channelize the public sentiment during a crisis situation such as this?
With the aim of reclaiming Scarborough’s narrative, we organized a series of free zine-making workshops throughout October and November 2019, at UTSC. The series received overwhelming support from the community. Everyone seemed to appreciate having a safe and creative space to reflect on their personal and shared experiences. More recently, with the COVID-19 pandemic and physical distancing guidelines in place, we set out to recreate that space, so that the community could connect amidst the unprecedented changes in our social landscape. Earlier this month, we launched our Instagram challenge, which invites the community to engage creatively with the difficulties of our current circumstances.
How did being a part of SSC impact your own scholarly journey?
Our #StayHomeZineSSC Instagram challenge was spearheaded by Rimsha Rahman, a member of the Collective and a City Studies student at UTSC, who organized the virtual zine series using various methods that she adopted from her studies at UTSC, mainly, Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). As per the ABCD model, the zine challenge is comprised of a collection of stories and the organization of a core group, while also allowing us, as a local institution, to map out our capacities and resources (Cunningham & Coady, 2002). This is a unique project that combines creative and critical components to engage a diverse group of people -- some familiar with the Instagram platform and social media generally, and some not -- in an e-learning and community-building experience.
Did any larger themes emerge in the entries that you received for #StayHomeZineSSC?
The project has increased engagement and learning opportunities in the local community, especially with respect to the need for physical distancing, and the challenges of coping with a pandemic. Several zines have sparked important conversations about the ways in which inequities are being reproduced by this pandemic. These stories give examples of how physical distancing depends on socioeconomic privilege and access to resources for safely practicing physical distancing.
Are there any next steps you have in mind for the SSC?
Instagram zine-making is a simple and fun way to keep people connected by giving them an outlet for expressing themselves during these extraordinary times. We’ve turned our Instagram page into a forum for sharing stories and learning from each other, while doing our part to flatten the curve. In the spirit of collectivity, and in acknowledgement of the challenges of physical distancing, we encourage you (readers!) to join our effort to amplify Scarborough’s stories by sharing your home-made zines and/or pre-recorded readings with the Collective. To submit, and to follow the zine project please visit our Instagram page.
Were there learnings from your workshop around safe streets, which seems significant now in hindsight, that you'd like to share with the readers?
The final workshop of our series was hosted in collaboration with Transportation Equity Toronto on the theme of safe streets. The group discussion raised serious concerns about walking safety and access to transit in Scarborough. Many of the zines from this session explore sustainable solutions for overcoming the practical and systemic barriers affecting the district, and they reimagine ways of getting around through the seasons, using different types of infrastructure, such as mobility greenways, multi-use paths, crosswalks, trails, and bike lanes.
Would you recommend UofT students to apply for the SofC Students Academy?
Absolutely! The SofC fellowship has provided us with many important opportunities and resources for continuing our work, such as the zine workshop series. Being part of the SofC Students Academy also expanded our network of mentors and urbanists, and helped us establish connections across various fields and knowledge backgrounds
The School of Cities' 'Care in Community' strives to design and support interventions that promote community engagement and provide avenues for people to come together and connect through various activities. Led by Prof. Marieme Lo, Associate Director, Education, at SofC, the initiative involves students, faculty and staff across the three campuses of the University of Toronto, creating interdisciplinary touchpoints for the various stakeholders.