6 min

UPDATE: Pride Toronto offers Hislop Park to Blockorama for 2010, 2011

Offer follows fiery community meeting at the 519

Omisoore Dryden takes Pride Toronto to task for unilaterally moving Blockorama to Alexander Parkette. Credit: James Bradford photo

UPDATE: April 16, 10:30am: Pride Toronto posted the following letter on their Facebook Page this morning:

Dear Blackness Yes Committee,

Thank you for giving us the opportunity and feedback needed to start working towards a mutually beneficial solution to the problem of the location of the Blockorama Stage. We reiterate that Blockorama is a very important part of the annual Pride Week Festival, and that you have Pride Toronto’s full commitment to work with you and to accommodate your needs for future Pride Weeks as outlined in the list presented at the meeting on Tuesday.

During the meeting, the staff team gained a better understanding of the various historic issues between Blackness Yes and Pride Toronto. We also became aware of specific, current issues between Blackness Yes and Pride Toronto. Central to all of these issues is a breakdown in communication. We are committed to addressing the concerns of all stakeholders during Pride Week within the limitations of our resources and we are very dedicated to resolving this issue.

Based on the feedback from Tuesday’s meeting and after a thorough analysis of our resources, we are able to propose the following agreement. We have identified what we believe is going to be a solution.

Pride Toronto can offer the following:

• A full stage and infrastructure in George Hislop parkette, which will be available for your use on both Saturday July 3rd and Sunday July 4th for this year’s festival.

• This infrastructure will include power, insurance, tents, tables/chairs, toilets, garbage removal, insurance, permits and fees, security, tech costs and labour. The total value of the infrastructure and the stage is approximately $25,000.

• We will provide you with a Stage Manager for the weekend, who will advance the show with the artists and ensure that the stage operates in a timely fashion.

• We will continue to provide you with the previously agreed budget of $5000 for programming of this space for Sunday July 4th.

• We will commit to providing you the George Hislop space for both the 2010 and 2011 festivals.

In moving forward towards a relationship that is cooperative and mutually beneficial to both organizations, Pride Toronto will need the following commitments from Blackness Yes:
• Any programming for Saturday July 3rd will be for your own account, whether it takes the form of a community-based stage where artists perform for free, or whether Blackness Yes engages the community through fundraising and donations to help offset programming costs for the entertainment.

• Information for Sunday July 4th’s program will be provided to Pride Toronto no later than April 21st. In addition to this, all information required for the Pride Guide (in order to be included in the print version of the publication) will be submitted no later than April 21st. This includes:
o A 100-word intro blurb;
o Two 50-word blurbs for artists’ spotlights;
o Any photos associated with those artists in high resolution (300 dpi);
o A 100-word blurb about Blackness Yes and a relevant photo.

• Information for Saturday July 3rd’s Community program will be provided by April 25th and will follow the same template as outlined above for Sunday July 4th’s program.

• A commitment from Blackness Yes to respond to emails with 48 hours of receiving them and to check in with the A&E department (by phone or email) at least twice per week from now until the end of the 2010 Pride Week Festival.

• A commitment from Blackness Yes to adhere to Pride Toronto deadlines for information on Site Logistics, Tech, Press etc. from this point forward.

Other initiatives:
• Planning an event with the size and scope of Pride Week in Toronto is a shared responsibility and requires active, engaged participation in the planning process. In order to prevent issues such as this from escalating into the crisis we experienced this week, we would like to invite two members of Blackness Yes to participate in all future monthly coordinator meetings, which are held on the first Tuesday of each month starting at 6.30 pm. These meetings are an open forum for committees to discuss the status of their festival plans and any challenges they are experiencing. We believe that this will ensure greater engagement between Blackness Yes and Pride and help facilitate more effective communication. We will add you to the email distribution list today and would like you to invite Blackness Yes to participate fully in all Pride committee activities. Additionally, our door is always open. Please visit the office and engage with our staff.

• Pride Toronto recognizes that marketing and communications efforts via Pride’s resources may be useful to help build the success of Blockorama in alignment with Blockorama strategies. Therefore, our new Marketing & Communications Manager would like the opportunity to meet with Blackness Yes to coordinate marketing efforts for high visibility and high impact collaboration. This would help to establish the framework for a successful Win-Win collaboration for future Prides.

We look forward to receiving your thoughts and feedback on this as soon as possible.

Thanks and regards

Tracey Sandilands
Executive Director


Marcus Ware of Blackness Yes also sent out the following message on Facebook Friday morning, through a community meeting Facebook page.

We have received a response from Pride.

They are offering us the following:

They are offering us exactly what we had last year (full stage and infrastructure , and the same $5000 artist fees, and a stage manager).

However, they are also ‘offering’ the use of the stage on Saturday for Blocko programming.They are offering NO money to pay for artists fees or anything else on saturday. They have indicated that we would have to fundraise on our own to pay for Saturday’s artist fees.

They are offering to commit us to the space for 2010 and 2011.

They are offering us 2 spots on the Pride monthly coordinator committee meetings. (starting in MAY 2010 for the July 1-4 Festival). [We used to be on this committee, but we were told it was no longer meeting by Pride last year- it appears that they have indeed been meeting, just without us at the table.]

Increased connection to their marketing initiatives.

They have numerous conditions throughout the letter around deadlines and such . We welcome your feedback as we formulate our response.

Blackness Yes!



Some 150 people packed the auditorium at the 519 Church St Community Centre on April 13 for a forum with a familiar theme: a dispute between Pride Toronto and members of Toronto’s gay and lesbian communities.

Blockorama is an all-day dance party celebrating black queer pride, traditionally held on the Sunday of Pride weekend. Its home from 1999 to 2005 was the parking lot across from Wellesley Station. But Blockorama has been moved twice since 2006. This year, Pride Toronto has moved Blockorama again, this time to Alexander Parkette, next to Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

There were two main issues driving the April 13 meeting. The first concerns the suitability of Alexander Parkette as a location for Blockorama. George Hislop Park, the event’s venue for 2008 and 2009, has a capacity of 1,500 people while Alexander Parkette can accommodate 1,100. Former Pride event logistics manager Lisa Duke, speaking in support of Blockorama, said further that the parkette’s uneven ground makes it a “dangerous” site for a dance event. She also cited visual obstacles that would make it hard to see the stage from some areas.

The other issue Blockorama members raised at the meeting is that they were told to move in the first place, and the signal they say such a unilateral decision sends to the black queer community. Many of those who spoke said that it was “disrespectful” to deny Blockorama a permanent home.

In an open letter from U of T associate professor Rinaldo Walcott, read aloud by Akim Larcher, Walcott wrote that there is a “discrepancy between Pride Toronto’s treatment of local black communities’ participation in Pride events and its attempt to position itself as a global player in LGBTQ rights.”

Blockorama members first learned of the most recent move last fall. Blockorama media spokesperson Tessa Duplessis says she was told the reason Pride Toronto moved Blockorama is because Pride had applied for a grant to stage the Queer Youth Digital Video Project for George Hislop Park, and that the grant was tied to the space. Pride Arts and Entertainment Manager Mary Zondanos revealed on Apr 13 that the grant was denied by Canada Council for the Arts, leaving George Hislop Park without programming for the weekend.

Pride Toronto executive director Tracey Sandilands said “the sky’s the limit” for finding a permanent home for Blockorama next year, but that this year she is limited by events and performers that have already been booked with particular venues in mind. Sandilands stated that she would not be able to make a decision on the spot without further research. “I won’t make promises tonight that I cannot fulfill tomorrow,” she said.

This came as a disappointment to some of those present, who hoped Pride would come prepared to offer specific solutions.

“Most of the people were disappointed and felt that Pride did not really come to take us seriously,” says Duplessis. “We felt they came to pacify us, and it didn’t work, and they had to now come up with some decisions.”

In response, one community member summed up the frustrations: “This gathering is about concern over the movement of a community… I think you can ask us to wait for a long term home, but not for immediate housing.”

The heated discussion around the location for Blockorama 2010 dominated the evening, leaving no time to discuss a further issue the Blockorama committee had hoped to bring up.

“We wanted to talk to Pride about transparency and how they make decisions,” says Duplessis. “Two years ago there was an arts and entertainment committee, and people manning the various stages would be invited and there would be meetings regularly so you’d be up to date…. Now it’s kind of like Pride makes all the decisions and you’re just told.”

The meeting, which lasted more than two and a half hours, closed with a promise from Sandilands that Pride will make a decision by Friday, April 16 at 2 pm. If Pride cannot offer a more suitable site than Alexander Parkette, Blockorama members have promised further action.

“This was the start of a conversation … This is the calm,” says Duplessis. “Don’t come back to us with insulting results, because we will take the next step.”