Why your next theatre outing might be in a stranger’s home
If you’re craving both culture and community, this innovative app is just what the doctor ordered
BY DOUG O’NEILL
It’s early on a warm Saturday night in 2018 as my partner and I amble along Ellis Park Road in High Park, our eyes scanning the brass house numbers for the address saved on my iPhone. Our host—whom I’ve never met before—sent it to me 24 hours earlier.
“This is like going on a blind date to a stranger’s home,” my partner says. “We don’t even know what they look like.” If this is a blind date, then tonight promises to be really interesting. There are three parties involved in this rendezvous: the host, the artist and the audience. And it’s likely that none of them have met before, at least not IRL. That’s pretty much the standard formula for an Artery “showcase,” which is what we’ve signed up for.
Artery, which launched in Toronto in 2017, is a peer-to-peer entertainment platform that brings total strangers together in condo lofts, leafy backyards, suburban living rooms, modest apartments and retail storefronts (after they’ve closed up shop for the day). It’s been likened to “AirBnB, but for pop-up culture,” although the goal for hosts is not to make money. While hosts have the option of taking a percentage of the ticket haul to cover costs like snacks and beverages, quite often all of the proceeds go to the participating artists and performers.
Showcases, as they’re called, can be anything from musical performance and art shows to stand-up comedy and photography exhibits. “The focus of Artery is on citizens connecting with other citizens, experiencing community with strangers, sometimes in unfamiliar neighbourhoods in their city,” says cofounder Salimah Yvette Ebrahim. “The intention is not so much to create inexpensive entertainment (although that’s often a benefit) as much as it is to create local community.”
How it works, in a nutshell: hosts donate their space, which is listed online with all pertinent information (capacity, accessibility, availability, etc.). The Artery platform then matches an artist or performer (“who has a show to perform or art to share but no venue”) to that space for a specific date. Then, the showcase is listed on the Artery schedule and people race to sign up. Registrants receive the specific address upon payment, which is generally modest. (Our night out in High Park cost us $8 each.)
For tonight’s showcase, host Roxana Salehi has opened up her house in High Park. There’s enough space outside on the patio and garden steps for 30 people. “Had it rained, we would have been accommodated quite intimately in my living room,” Salehi says, laughing. “Making my home available to an artist is my way of contributing to the local cultural scene,” she adds. “And I get to meet interesting people from all walks of life.”
Audiences are generally made up of people like me, who want to tap into engaging local culture and perhaps share a yearning for that sometimes elusive sense of community in a large city. “Our platform is used by locals to connect to the often invisible, but dynamic, cultural life of their city,” Ebrahim says. “We’re empowering existing communities and performers to connect with each other.”
Salehi’s writer friend Chris Graham, who is also one of tonight’s performers, acts as an informal emcee for the evening, ensuring everyone feels comfortable and knows where to find the loo. His 20-minute reading, a memoir piece inspired by a shopping excursion with his mother to Ikea six weeks before her death, is both humorous and heartfelt. After a short break, during which attendees become better acquainted with one another over corn chips and watermelon slices, the evening continues with a queer folk singer, an author who is workshopping a chapter of her upcoming memoir, and an award-winning musician who’s just returned from the Yukon.
My partner and I are scrunched onto cushions next to Harry and Rosalie, a middle-aged couple from downtown who are Artery newbies. We also yack it up with Sal, who has been to three such showcases, and get into a discussion about the best bike routes to the Evergreen Brickworks. The conversation is spontaneous, natural and, in some ways, surprising—since most of us were total strangers at the beginning of the evening. Sounds like the best kind of community to me.