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By Anita Small, Ed.D. and Joanne Cripps

Then: The “Kindling” of an Organization

In 1973 Forrest Nickerson and Angela Stratiy from western Canada, together with other Deaf leaders from across Canada, founded the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf (CCSD), the only national cultural organization for Deaf Canadians. A non-profit organization, receiving money through private donations and incorporated under a federal charter in 1973, CCSD has provincial affiliates across the country with representatives serving the national board of directors from each province and territory.

Representing over 450,000 Canadians, CCSD has preserved, encouraged and advanced the cultural interests of Canada’s Deaf population through the performing arts, language, literature, history, visual arts and heritage resources. Over the past 30 years, CCSD has encouraged new and developing forms of creativity, research, education and participation, promoted better understanding between Deaf and hearing adults and children, promoted literacy for Deaf children and expanded and promoted Canadian Deaf heritage resources, Deaf children’s festivals, international exchange programs for youth and national cultural programs for children, youth and adults.

The CCSD has a consistent track record of excellence. Since 1998, CCSD’s Deaf Heritage Project has raised approximately $3 million dollars in grants to produce 16 ASL literature videotapes, CD Rom’s and DVD’s, 36 segments on 3 TV shows, 4 books for Deaf children and their parents and to establish, the first ASL/LSQ based nonfiction interactive web-site for Deaf & hearing children & parents. CCSD’s Deaf heritage children’s book, River of Hands published in 2000, Canadian Dictionary of ASL (American Sign Language) reprinted in 2004 and TV series and educational website in ASL/LSQ (Langue des Signes Quebecoise), English and French have all received national and/ or international awards! Twenty episodes of are being aired, the educational website was expanded to include EarthBuzz with Deaf heritage information in 2004 and will include SportsVillage highlighting the role of sports and Deaf role models this spring 2005. In 2004 CCSD together with its Ontario Cultural Society of the Deaf affiliate developed two videotapes and DVD’s for parents of Deaf newborns and toddlers to encourage early sign language development and literacy. In 2005, a new sign language storytelling videotape for elementary school children and two children’s books with Deaf characters, role models and experience will be published. A French-Canadian Deaf History in Quebec videotape will soon be published.

Now: Illuminating Deaf Culture

When CCSD was first founded, Forrest Nickerson, CCSD’s first president, had another dream – to establish a Deaf Culture Centre. This dream will soon become a reality! Under the auspices of CCSD and with unanimous support from the board of directors, Joanne Cripps and Anita Small spearheaded the investigation, feasibility and establishment of the DEAF CULTURE CENTRE. They met with and interviewed museum and gallery directors, curators, strategic planners, architects, designers, multimedia producers, lease agents, educators, government agencies, lawyers, accountants and members of the Deaf community. They conducted a feasibility study and charrette sessions with leaders of the Deaf community, developed site plans with Quadrangle Architects, launched the fundraising campaign with Wayne Hussey Consulting Inc. and worked with Bruce Mau Design Inc. to produce the vision document, identity and design for the centre’s marketing and exhibits.

The DEAF CULTURE CENTRE opened at the historic culture, arts and entertainment Distillery District right in the heart of Old Town Toronto on May 13, 2006! A project of the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf, it features January 5, 2007 a museum, art gallery, gift shop, research and archives, state-of-the-art visually rich technology highlighting Deaf historical artifacts, literature, ASL/LSQ interactive website/television and multimedia production studio.

The DEAF CULTURE CENTRE is a symbol of the Deaf community celebrating Deaf life. It is a public forum both historical and forward-looking. The Deaf Culture Centre is contemporary, a fun gathering place that is open to the public and rooted in the Deaf community. It provides education, culture, visual and performing arts. It will hold summer and winter institutes, ongoing workshops, performances, permanent exhibits, special and traveling exhibits.

The DEAF CULTURE CENTRE is a convergence point for Deaf and hearing people to immerse themselves creatively within Deaf culture. It is a unique, evolving place that is open and welcoming to all.

The Future: A “Lighthouse” Celebrating Deaf Life!

CCSD President, Helen Pizzacalla has described the DEAF CULTURE CENTRE as a “lighthouse that will draw people to celebrate Deaf life from around the world”.

This place is about Deaf Culture. What it was, is and will be. It is a culture of creativity and open expression. It is the place to where the Deaf community migrates and from which it emanates. It is in a place like this that culture is made. It is a place where things happen.

The DEAF CULTURE CENTRE will push Deaf culture forward into the world in a new way where old assumptions are challenged. The Centre will be receptive and open to all cultures but its primary function is to enrich and elevate the achievements of the Deaf community for all the world to understand and appreciate.

The DEAF CULTURE CENTRE will preserve language and history while continually exploring new technologies and ideas. It looks to the past to uncover the future so it can speak to the present in a fresh and exciting way.

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