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The East side of Toronto is currently undergoing a massive transformation. It is at this point in its history that we want to remember the past, take stock of the present and imagine the future through the lens of those who will ultimately be the leaders in their communities. By harnessing the power of imagination combined with critical design thinking skills the Department of Imaginary Affairs (DIA) will empower our youth to tackle the dilemmas of urban growth by dreaming big and outside the box.

Says co-foun​der Blair Francey, “The DIA started formulating while completing my Masters in London, England. I was volunteering at the Ministry of Stories mentoring youth on creative writing projects. Upon returning to Toronto I wanted to start something similar but with a twist. Being born and raised in the Beach, I have always loved the East side and wanted to explore its history and the people that reside in this, admittedly quieter, side of Toronto. There is so much going on that even I haven’t explored on the East side and so much change taking place in terms of development and demographics that this seemed like the right opportunity to capture a snapshot of what the East side looks like now.”

Initially the DIA programming will focus around civic engagement in politics, urban planning, culture, agriculture, education, environment and history. Programming for in-school sessions will be contained units which compliments the Ontario curriculum. After-school sessions will put an emphasis on building self-confidence, understanding and resiliency within the youth through projects that have a longer timeline and broader scope.

“Engaging youth from an early age and helping them understand what their role is in building a city, that it’s not just the politicians who make decisions, is at the core of what we want the DIA to be in the future,” Francey continued. “We want to help show the youth on the East side that they can affect change in their city from a grassroots level and that design is an integral part to how cities are built.”

On October 3, 2015 the DIA will officially launch with its first public project, The East Side Story, an Independent Project during Scotiabank Nuit Blanche at St. James Park (King St. East and Church St.). The project is an attempt  to capture the narrative of citizens who live, work, and play in the East side of Toronto about why they live in the East side and how they see the area developing in the future. The stories that are collected will be bound together in large storybooks and displayed in the park. During the 12 hours of the event we will be collecting more stories about those who visit the exhibit. As much as The East Side Story is a public art installation, it is also an important part of research for the DIA. By engaging with the residents and hearing their stories, we will have a better understanding of the themes, concerns, questions and excitement about the East side. This will help us tailor and develop the programming which will start in 2016.

For more information on The East Side Story project, click here. Want to tell your own story? Fill out the story form!

The DIA currently operates as a nomadic entity – we bring programming into schools, community centres, camps and more,  cultivating relationships and developing partnerships with other like-minded organizations. The DIA’s 3-5 year goal is to open a physical location which it can operate to provide space for youth programming (both in- and after school), a storefront to subsidize programming and operating costs, and potentially work / rehearsal / gallery space for community organizations and artists.  As a brand new startup, funds are limited and the DIA wants to make The East Side Story as amazing as we can. Click here to easily make a donation to the DIA. (As a thank you we’ll give you a shout out on social media, list you as one of our founding donors and send you a customized DIA notebook!)

The Department of Imaginary Affairs (DIA) is focused on developing and engaging a new generation of civically-minded youth in the East side of Toronto. The DIA is an ever-evolving organization which adapts to the needs of the community it serves. It is dedicated to nurturing leaders who have yet to be discovered, uncovering critical thinkers who haven’t found their voice yet, and providing opportunities to flourish to those who may feel underdeveloped. We want to create a space to imagine a different future for Toronto. For more information visit  www.dia.space.

​The Department of Imaginary Affairs
Media Contact: Blair Francey ​blair@dia.space

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