Helen Carswell Mission

The Helen Carswell Chair supports a long-term partnership between York University and Community Music Schools of Toronto at Jane and Finch. Our mission is to:

  • Conduct rigorous academic research exploring the benefits of community music programs and the links between music and learning
  • Significantly benefit children from high-risk neighbourhoods and fortify community music programs globally through publications and knowledge mobilization
  • Engage and help drive new knowledge and practice to community based groups serving children in the Jane and Finch community

CMST @ Jane & Finch

3 children playing on piano

Community Music Schools of Toronto (CMST) is a key partner in the Helen Carswell Chair. Specifically, our partnership collaborates with CMST’s program in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood.

CMST at Jane & Finch provides access to subsidized private, group and ensemble music lessons to children and youth aged 4-18 in the Jane and Finch community. By removing the financial obstacle for music lessons, CMST gives young Jane and Finch residents the opportunity to explore a wide variety of musical interests from classical piano, strings, voice, brass, wind and percussion to electronic music, songwriting and recording. Through CMST’s unique Creative Curriculum, students explore many genres of music and achieve meaningful social and musical goals throughout their studies. For more information on CMST- Jane & Finch, visit https://www.communitymusic.org/.

Learn more about CMST from Director, Richard Marsella here:

Listen to CMST students perform “A Little Voice”:

For more CMST videos, visit their YouTube Channel here.

Message from the Chair

Photo of Amy Hillis

Amy Hillis, D.Mus.
Assistant Professor
Department of Music
School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design

The study, teaching, and implementation of academic research in the arts relies on its connection to external and “real-world” artistic practice. As scholars, researchers, teachers and performers, we seek opportunities to learn from our communities, share our own passions, and grow in a constant dialogue. The aim of the Helen Carswell Chair is to facilitate relationships between the York community and communities outside the university through the arts.

Established and supported by the Carswell Family Foundation in 2016, the Helen Carswell Chair supports research that explores community cultural development. With a focus on fostering a mutually beneficial relationship with the Jane and Finch community, the Helen Carswell Chair is proud to have a long-term partnership with RPSM – Jane and Finch, the most recent branch of the incredible Regent Park School of Music. Through our work with RPSM and other Community Arts organizations, we seek to disseminate new knowledge and research to community-based groups in the Jane and Finch community and in other high-risk neighbourhoods around the world.

As a new member to this team, I am honoured to be a part of this mission to support community-engaged research in the arts. I look forward to working with community leaders in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood and beyond as we explore how arts can empower and represent children of all ages, from all backgrounds.

July 1, 2020

Dr. Hillis’ current research as a community music practitioner investigates the importance of a community’s “identity”. How can community musicians facilitate transformative music experiences by deepening a community’s sense of identity, whether this identity is geographical, racial, cultural or gender-based? Dr. Hillis presents and promotes music by underrepresented composers, particularly in the classical music genre, in order to empower the voices of marginalized communities. You can learn more about her research here.


Executive Committee

Uzo Anucha, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, York University
Sarah Bay-Cheng, Dean of the School of Arts, Media, Performance and Design (AMPD), York University
Amy Hillis, Helen Carswell Chair and Assistant Professor, School of AMPD, York University
Richard Marsella, Executive Director of Community Music Schools of Toronto
William Thomas, Associate Professor, School of AMPD, York University

Advisory Committee

Karen Burke, Chair of the Department of Music, School of AMPD, York University
Vanessa Chase, Community Music Schools of Toronto, Program Manager, Jane and Finch
Jennifer Foster, Associate Professor, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, York University
Jillian Fulton-Melanson, Department of Anthropology, York University
Byron Gray, Manager, TD Community Engagement Centre, York University
Carl James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora and the Affirmative Action, Equity & Inclusivity (AAEI) Officer, York University
Michael Johnny, Manager, Knowledge Mobilization Unit, York University
Lorna Schwartzentruber, Associate Director, Access Programs and Community Engagement, Vice-Provost Academic, York University

Carswell Family Foundation

Carswell Foundation

The Helen Carswell Chair in Community Engaged Research in the Arts is funded by the Carswell Family Foundation.