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

Joel Ong, Ph.D 
Associate Professor
Department of Computational Arts
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.  With resonances both internal and external to the University, I believe strongly in the role of the Helen Carswell Chair in bringing research-creation methodologies to support experimental research and its opportunities for community engagement, stemming from a deep commitment to the hyperlocal neighbourhoods around the university, and to the faculty and students here for whom institutional support and community connections are at a “metabolic” level of accountability.  As a researcher I have also realized an equal role of mutual respect and relationship-building that must go hand in hand with the extraction of information from the community, a culture that previous Carswell Chairs have historically focused on at York that prioritizes the ethics of engagement with communities of vulnerable groups (especially youth) through music and the broader arts. I am confident this position can strengthen communications with researchers and administrative groups within the university in order to locate the role of the researcher as collaborator within the community-led process of self-determination as opposed to that of extractive visitor.

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 CMST – Jane and Finch, the most recent branch of the incredible Community Music Schools Toronto. Through our work with CMST 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 fellow researcher and community activator, 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.

Oct 1, 2023 

Dr. Ong’s current research is located at the burgeoning intersection of digital media and the life sciences that is developed through the metaphor of the ‘oikos’ (house, dwelling), the root word for ‘ecology’.  This axis of research explores how emerging technological systems may contribute to, afford, or constitute (for instance virtually) hospitable environments for life and diversity to thrive.  His work in the Jane-Finch community also considers how immersive digital systems may shape and augment oral narratives, text, images and other forms of archiving in geographies of drastic transition.  You can learn more about his 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
Joel Ong, Helen Carswell Chair and Associate 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.