Welcome to the first Hart House Quarterly Newsletter of 2021. Because so much of our programming for students is being presented online this year, you could be forgiven for wondering how their experiences with Hart House compare with those of their colleagues from previous years. Well, I am pleased to report that thanks to the adaptiveness and ingenuity of our staff and students, the programs offered by Hart House this year are still engaging thousands of University of Toronto students in extraordinary experiences in the arts, dialogue, wellness and community.
Since March 2020, Hart House has been producing more than 140 hours of original programming for students every month. Our team has worked hard to create and spread awareness of what we have branded the “Virtual Hart House,” our online hub for keeping students and other members of our community connected in these uncertain times. From fitness classes to art exhibits, and from dialogues on pressing social issues to theatre roundtables and live musical performances, the extraordinary variety of offerings in the Virtual Hart House have been available to students anytime and anyplace throughout the year. In this issue of our newsletter, we explore how some of the social media tools included in the Virtual Hart House are bringing students closer together despite their physical distance from one another. For us, what started as a temporary solution to an immediate problem has evolved into a source of community-building that will continue to enrich students’ lives long after it is safe for us to leave home again.
The Hart House Mentorship Program for graduate and mature part-time students—which has tripled in size this year—is another activity that has been adapted to an online format because of the pandemic. Every year Hart House matches mentors and mentees based on a holistic assessment of their interests and goals, but instead of gathering to meet at Hart House, this year their meetings have been moved “from room to Zoom.” This change in format has allowed mentors and mentees to participate in meetings from wherever in the world they are based. In this issue, Nigeria-based U of T student Yusuf Kareem shares his experience as a participant in the Program.
Despite all of the challenges we have encountered this past year, there have also been many moments of celebration and recognition. For example, Kennedy Kao, a member of the Hart House Film Board, was recently awarded the grand prize for Best Student Short Film at the Pan-Canadian Student Film Competition. In this edition, you will find an interview with Kennedy where he describes his creative journey and his connection to fellow Film Board members who helped bring his film Danica’s Mom to the screen.
Finally, we reflect back on the 2019-2020 academic year, which was also our 100th Anniversary. Unfortunately, the year was interrupted by the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, but up until that point it had been one full of remarkable accomplishments and experiences. Many of these are outlined in our Year in Review: 2019-20, which we are pleased to share with you in this edition.
Thanks to the tremendous work of everyone across Hart House—and under the expert direction of our extremely talented Project Manager, Kelly Schnurr—our centenary year was packed full of events, programs and exhibits that remembered the past, celebrated the present and envisioned the future. One of the most unforgettable events of any year was the Hart House Gala of the Century in November 2019. Special guests and friends from across the years joined us for the historic unveiling of the Hart House Centennial Art Commission by artists Rebecca Belmore and Osvaldo Yero, entitled waabidiziiyan doopwining (To see oneself at the table). Their breathtaking, transformative wall sculpture in the shape and dimensions of a Great Hall dining table is now permanently affixed to the north wall of that room. It invites everyone who enters the room to ask themselves who is represented in the work and the physical spaces of Hart House, and who is missing. It also challenges us to ask what we at Hart House can do to ensure that every student of the University or young person from the broader community who visits Hart House sees themselves, their identities and their stories reflected back at them.
I hope you enjoy this Winter 2021 edition of the Hart House Quarterly. Even as we continue to face a somewhat uncertain future, please remember Hart House is always here for you and that our virtual door is always open.
John MonahanWarden of Hart House