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3 min

What’s new at Pride

This year offers more arts, greenery & human rights

This year’s Pride will allow attendees to breathe and even to enjoy green space.

Pride is spread over a larger area this time, with stages set up in previously unused parks close to Yonge St and north of Wellesley. The street fair is more widely dispersed and roving bands of artists will be mounting spectacles all over the site.

“It gives us some beautiful green space that we haven’t had before,” says Pride executive director Fatima Amarshi. “Usually it’s all concrete and buildings.”

Amarshi says Pride decided to expand its site for several reasons, including allowing part of the street fair to move off Church St.

“The first was just to manage the site better,” she says. “The other part of it was to work in a little better capacity with the local businesses. We’ve removed as many booths as possible from Church between Wellesley and Alexander. There are booths along Alexander and Gloucester Lane.”

Norman Jewison Park will be used primarily as an open green space for Pride attendees to escape the crowds, as will the small park on the northwest corner of Isabella St and Church.

Amarshi says other parks will contain new stages and provide more space for old favourites. There will be a new Transaction stage in George Hislop Park on Sat, Jun 28 and Blockorama will take over the space on Jun 29.

“It’s the first time we’ve had a particular trans stage,” says Amarshi. “I think the trans community has been asking for some sort of space as well. We finally got some funding to put that stage together.”

Amarshi says the new stage also gives Blockorama more space than last year’s location in a parking lot.

“They’re in a nicer space,” she says. “They’re trying to build a community space and that’s easier to do here than in a parking lot. They wanted to be somewhere where they weren’t on a main strip.” (For more on Blockorama see story on page 23.)

The Proud Voices stage — for queer writers and storytellers — moves to the James Canning Gardens and expands from one day to two: Jun 28 and 29. The event was presented for the first time last year, in conjunction with Word on the Street (WOTS). The event will be presented again at WOTS in September.

“It was very well-attended,” says Amarshi. “People seem to want to hear queer stories in a queer context.”

This year also features a partnership with the Writers’ Trust of Canada, a nonprofit organization supporting writers across the country. The Trust presents the annual Dayne Ogilvie Memorial Grant — named after a former managing editor of Xtra — to a young queer writer each year. Zoe Whittall, this year’s winner, will be part of Proud Voices on Jun 28. (For more on Proud Voices see the Ultimate Pride Guide in this issue.)

“It’s the first year it’s been associated with Proud Voices,” says Amarshi. “We now have institutions like the Writers’ Trust wanting to be involved.”

Proud Voices falls under what Pride is calling Beyond the Beats.

“There is all these alternative arts to enjoy beyond the music stages,” says Amarshi.

Beyond the Beats also includes a new art program called Plot, Engage, Disperse which will feature local artists mounting installations and displays around the Pride site.

“Listen to the intimate stories of Prides past from some of the queer community’s most dedicated members,” states the Pride website. “See buildings and public spaces transformed in beautiful and thought-provoking ways. Show off your skills in what’s sure to be a messy post-Dyke March pie-eating contest. Throw in a tit pin booth, a human disco ball, and there might even be a few surprises that are ‘something to sing about.'”

Amarshi says the program — curated by Daryl Vocat — was inspired by other public art displays in Toronto.

“The idea grew out of what was exciting about Nuit Blanche,” she says. “There are a wealth of queer artists in Toronto and we started to think about how to incorporate them.”

Amarshi also points to the presence of three giant video screens at this year’s Pride as being a huge boost for Video Art is Queer, now in its second year, which commissions work from Toronto video artists. The videos will be screened throughout Pride weekend.

Amarshi says the screens will be used to link everybody at Pride together.

“Having the screens on the site has the ability to transmit a common message,” she says. “Our site is so large, you’d have to rope everybody into one area.”

She says the screens will also be used heavily to air Pride’s international human rights focus. The screens will show videos by artists on human rights themes, and will allow those onsite to transmit text messages about their own experiences to the screen. Those messages will also be part of the webcast of Pride being shown around the world for the first time.

“Anyone, anywhere on the site can send their message and have it on the screen,” says Amarshi. “To be able to use the full force of who we are, the technology allows us to do that.” (For more on Pride’s human rights campaign see story on page 9.)

Amarshi says much of the program expansion was possible because of a grant from the provincial government’s Celebrate Ontario program, which provides money for Ontario festivals.

Pride is also having its first official closing party. Entitled Last Dance the event will be held at Circa nightclub.

“It’s exciting that the partnership with Circa has come through,” says Amarshi.