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Small World Music

Alan Davis, founder of Small World Music, sat down with [Space Is] to shed some light on cultural diversity in the Toronto arts and music scene. He expanded on how education, empowerment, and empathy are promoted through the types of events that Small World Music hosts. As a promoter of global music in Toronto, Small World Music showcases a wealth of multicultural talent by presenting diverse artists around the city.

After 30 years of music programming, Alan has seen how the reception of world music has evolved. His passion and celebration of diversity through music has positively contributed to the expansion of Toronto’s musical borders. “Experiencing what the world had to offer changed my perspective, and it was fundamental to the idea of creating an entity that could carry that message to people here. I got a sense that there was a lot out there that I didn’t grow up with and I wanted to showcase it and share it.”

The educational aspect is a natural outgrowth of Small World Music. “Some of it comes from clichés, such as building bridges, and we have to be careful with the promises we make. Tragically there are many who don’t venture out of their comfort zones. Music and food is where people are more comfortable in reaching out and in trying new things. We’ve fostered intersections of audiences, getting people to experience different cultures, and it has had some success. I do feel that music transcends barriers in ways that other things cannot. It goes beyond language, if you are open minded; it opens up your ears to something new, and you do learn. Education is not formalized but it’s something we try to do with our own venue.” The Small World Music venue enables the organization to do things that they couldn’t do otherwise, such as workshops, deeper immersions, and experiences from a smaller and intimate setting VS a massive concert.

The Small World Music Centre was created three and a half years ago as a form of empowerment. It serves as a platform for emerging artists where young musicians can get exposure, and develop their professional presentation. One of its fundamental attributes is the possibility of producing high quality audio and video content for young artists to further their careers.

What processes did you go through to find and set up your own venue?

“It fell into our lap to some extent, it was a long-held vision and a desire to have something like this. It came around in large part because we were already Artscape tenants. When they made an announcement that they were going to renovate the former school on Shaw, they extended an invitation knowing we had expressed interest in having a venue. The initial idea was to have a venue and office in the same space; however, it didn’t manifest that way for various reasons. In large part, it was a natural fit - rather than going around the city and finding a completely new space. The Artscape experience has been positive, but challenging. We are proud of what we have accomplished with it, and our future may include finding a different venue or sticking with the current one. There were two primary fundraisers responsible for the outfitting the space, and subsidies help to make it function. With our size, it’s hard to make the venue self-sustaining; it requires ongoing support, rentals, and manpower.”

Describe your ideal or favourite event space. Have you found it? What are some features of different spaces that you enjoyed?

“It’s all contingent, frankly, Massey Hall would be close to the top depending on what you’re looking for. We used to have a long and close relationship with Lula Lounge and Mod Club, among others. However, we usually end up using our own space. What we found over the years is that we were doing things in spaces that were too large for a particular application. So if 70 people came to see a concert in a 200 capacity room, you’re in the wrong place. What is the right space? It all depends – sound and staging are paramount. If you have to go into a place where the production values are not up to standards and you have to bring in external sound and lights, it’s complicated.”

For Alan, raw spaces are also appealing, where you need to be willing to go through the extra trouble. Industrial spaces can be inspirational – somewhere you can create something new and unusual. “You need to budget for production. Recently, that’s increasingly topical - using nontraditional spaces for a certain kind of presentation. A perfect example is Ontario Place – we took something unused and developed it into something that we made ours.”

For updates on Small World Music’s upcoming events, check out:


Vancouver, British Columbia

Toronto, Ontario

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