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Myths and Mirrors Community Arts

Since 1996, Myths and Mirrors has provided unique opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to experience and take part in the arts outside of mainstream settings. Our goals have been to create innovative art, to engender a sense of community identity, and most importantly, to provide a forum for those made marginalized to express themselves.

Everyone is welcome to imagine and create community with us.


Written by Myths and Mirrors founder, Laurie McGauley

A bit of history… In 1996 a small offbeat arts organization called Myths and Mirrors was born in Sudbury, a hardscrabble mining city in Northern Ontario. Since then, Myths has engaged with thousands of people, collaborating with artists to create art works, performances, installations and much more. What started as a three year project is still here, producing important, innovative and unusual work. Looking back at its history provides a glimpse of Myths’ foundational principles, the spine and inspiration that keeps this organization going.

The name

Despite its mystical sounding name, Myths and Mirrors Community Arts was actually born in the midst of some ugly social realities.

By the early 1990s in Ontario, some small progress had been made in protecting people from abject poverty, such as raises in social assistance rates, better tenants’ protection, social housing, etc. One tangible local result of these more progressive approaches was the founding of Better Beginnings Better Futures (BBBF) in 1990. A group of front line workers, activists and community members started this community based organization grounded in the belief that it takes a community to raise a child, and the healthier the community, the healthier the children. Initially sponsored by N’Swakamok Friendship Centre and supported by the Ontario government, BBBF based itself in the Donovan and Flour Mill neighbourhoods in Sudbury, because they were the most diverse and interesting as well as the poorest.

In the face of these progressive shifts there was a vicious and well financed provincial backlash that was funnelled through a concentrated attack campaign against people living in poverty, in particular social assistance recipients and single mothers. They were characterized as “frauds” and “lazy”; letters to the editor were full of outrage at the waste of tax payer dollars to support the “undeserving”. Snitch lines were being introduced throughout the province, including in Sudbury, encouraging people to snitch on their poor neighbours for buying a television, or for having a boyfriend. These were more threatening times than usual for people living in poverty, culminating in the election of the Conservatives in 1995 who won a majority government after a campaign of poor bashing and fear mongering.

The BBBF community members were of course hit hard by this hate campaign and devastated by the immediate 22% cut to social assistance rates imposed by the new government. Activists and community members wanted to challenge these cruel and destructive social and political forces. Understanding that the anti-poor propaganda campaign had worked and that changing people’s minds was crucial to changing public policy, in 1996 a small group developed a three year project to tell the real stories of the people who were being vilified.

Building on previous activist art and popular theatre, the project was called “Myths and Mirrors”. “Myths”, as in the hateful lies and stereotypes deliberately spread to diminish and degrade poor people in order to justify slashing and cutting supports. The “myths” of capitalism as being a fair system; the “myths” of meritocracy, the “myths” that keep this system grinding away at the expense of so many. And “Mirrors”: looking at who we really are, mirroring the realities of people’s lives, telling our stories and reflecting hard truths, including the joys and the successes as well as the oppression and poverty.

The work

Since this beginning, Myths and Mirrors has consistently been about the realities of people’s lives, celebrating and supporting each other through the challenges and struggles that many of us are faced with. Exposing the myths that normalize and sustain systems of vicious capitalism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, colonialism, etc., through the mirrors of people’s experiences of these systems is challenging work. This commitment has meant learning new ways to work and create together, to listen to and support each other, learning to be flexible and able to adapt and change to meet community needs for expression and creative exchange.

These beginnings set the path, and for 28 years Myths has been intentionally engaging with people who are targets of exploitation, hate and exclusion, focussing on the issues and stories that affect them. The work has rarely been about individual artists’ creations; rather it is about bringing artists and community members together to collectively create art that matters, art that tells real stories that matter. These stories are what underlie all the creation at Myths and Mirrors.

Initially centred in the Flour Mill and Donovan neighbourhoods, Myths soon spread out to the downtown, and over the years has included residents from the entire region as well as Northern Ontario in projects and activities. Five Artistic Directors have led the organization at different times. Laurie McGauley, Tanya Anne Ball, Sarah King Gold, Jesse Brady and Cora-Rae Silk have each contributed to this history with their own unique and inspired visions, while always staying true to the original mission.

Works have been created in all art disciplines, including theatre, video, murals, fabric art, painting, puppets, stilts, music, animation, photography and installation. Some projects have engaged hundreds of participants in the art making, such as A Show of Hands or the Northern Dreams Quilt Project. Some projects have included a small number of participants for an extended, intense creation process, such as Get A Real Job created with call centre workers and ArmHer created with sex workers. Celebrations of community, of connection and solidarity have been a continuous thread throughout the years; giant puppets and stilts and lots of youth art programming from the B Girls to the Windwalkers to Kazzzam. Some projects were essentially responses to challenging times, such as our strike support work for Vale workers and our gift exchange project with people surviving on the streets during the Covid pandemic.

All of Myths and Mirrors’ work involves people in exchanges: of stories, of compassion, of ideas, of art. It is in these exchanges, between participants creating a work of art, or between the creators and the recipients, that the meaning and the magic happens. After almost three decades, this small arts organization remains true to its name, committed to exposing destructive myths and to creating the mirrors we need to really see each other. As we go forward, this work is more important than ever.