Mammalian Diving Reflex, founded in 1993 by Darren O’Donnell is a research-art company dedicated to socially engaged art. The company’s work breaks down barriers between individuals of all economic and social backgrounds and looks at bringing people of all ages together in thought-provoking, unusual and interesting ways. Their signature work, “Haircuts by Children” is exactly what it sounds like. The project has toured all around the world, entrusting children with scissors and adults with bad haircuts, on an international level.
Mammalian’s collaboration with the Gladstone Hotel dates back to 2007, where they presented Parkdale Public School vs. Blocks Recording, featuring Parkdale Public School’s seniors string class and three bands: Bob Wiseman, The Phonemes and Kids on TV. Mammalian began to work with an array of new collaborators and in 2010; the company established a youth art collective called The Torontonians consisting of 10 youth members who have all grown up in the Parkdale neighbourhood.
The Gladstone Hotel’s relationship with the youth began in September 2011 with a year-long mentorship residency program called Producers of Parkdale, where the teens had the chance to learn the ropes of event production: curating, budgeting, marketing, production management and hospitality. Following a successful collaboration, in August 2012 the youth curated and managed an all-night event, Dare Night: Lockdown, a public sleepover held in the Gladstone’s Hotel ballroom.
Photo By: Micheal Barker
In 2013, Mammalian Diving Reflex and the Gladstone took the next step and officially moved in as an official company in residence. Mammalian launched “Teens Take Over”, the hotel’s first ever “Teens in Residence” program with the strategic aim of getting the youth more involved in the arts community in Queen Street West. The staff at the Gladstone have been integrated into this whole process, so much that they have reached out to the Torontonians for employment opportunities and odd-jobs in and around the hotel.
This model of youth engagement has been presented through Mammalian’s international presentations in Germany, Hong Kong and London with the Gladstone Hotel being an important aspect of this. This partnership has proved to be an example of what is possible when the business and cultural sectors collaborate and it continues to impress the performing arts world.
Photo By: Daniel Rodriguez
Annie Wong, who is the Young Mammals Director spends most of her time working on Toronto-based projects with the youth. She notes the positive experience working with the hotel over the past two years. “The Gladstone exemplifies forward thinking and creative risk-taking. Our work together demonstrates not only an important step in community development, but an understanding of innovative business partnerships.”
Once an intimidating space and exclusive space for the local youth, the Gladstone Hotel has transformed into an open and inter-generational creative incubator with the presence of young people playing a key part, participating in exhibitions like Come Up to My Room 2014 and Grow-Op 2015, while providing their own programming in the ballroom like dance parties and the occasional study session in the 2nd floor gallery. In just two years, the teens have considered this place their second home and somewhere they felt belonged.
While Mammalian no longer has an office at the Gladstone Hotel, the company is keen on continuing to expand and explore what is possible and keep this relationship going strong. You can catch Mammalian just down the street at Good Fellas Gallery, 1266 Queen St. West.
To learn more about Mammalian, visit www.mammalian.ca/