Mandate and History

MANDATE

The Ashkenaz Foundation celebrates global Jewish music, arts and culture that embraces the past, present and future. While rooted in the spirit and forms of the Yiddish culture revival, Ashkenaz seeks to spotlight a broad range of multi-ethnic Jewish identities and artistic/cultural traditions.  Emphasizing cross-cultural creativity across a wide spectrum of Jewish and non-Jewish traditions, Ashkenaz spotlights world-class artists and also nurtures emerging artists. Through its biennial Ashkenaz Festival and a robust slate of year-round programs across the GTA, Ashkenaz seeks to reach the largest possible audiences, establishing appreciation and demand for high-quality Jewish arts and culture in the mainstream consciousness, and providing its core Jewish audience with a source of pride, inspiration and community cohesion.

HISTORY

The Ashkenaz Foundation was founded in 1995 with the creation of the inaugural Ashkenaz Festival at Harbourfront Centre. At the time of its founding, the Festival served as an expression of the coming-of-age of a worldwide revival of klezmer music, Yiddish language and eastern European-based Jewish culture, that had been ongoing since the mid-1970s. From the outset, the Festival was a multi-disciplinary event with an overarching focus on music as the core of its programming. Through its first decade of existence, including six editions of the biennial Festival, Ashkenaz established itself as the largest event of its kind in North America, becoming an important and prestigious showcase for international artists working in this milieu. Throughout this period, the Festival remained anchored largely in its eastern-European-based founding vision, and the biennial festival continued as the organization’s primary activity.

Following the sixth edition of the Festival in 2006, a new management team was installed and worked with the Board of Directors to develop a new Strategic Plan in 2007. Under this new plan, Ashkenaz committed to professionalizing many of its operations, with an expanded staff complement, and introduced a new commitment to expand the organization’s activities to include year-round concerts and events in the GTA. The 2007 Strategic Plan also prioritized diversification of the organization’s programming, expanding to include a greater representation of Sephardic, Mizrachi and other forms of global Jewish music and culture grounded in multiple geographic and historical contexts for Jewish artistic expression.

Since then, Ashkenaz has successfully pursued and implemented many of the priorities and directions first articulated in its 2007 Strategic Plan. Year-round programming across the GTA has become an increasingly prominent facet of the organization’s activities, and the last six editions of the biennial Festival have featured a broader slate of artists and artistic styles/traditions rooted in multiple Jewish identities from across the globe. The Festival and year-round events attract ever more diverse audiences, particularly through cross-cultural programming that includes artists, traditions and programming partners from outside the Jewish community. Eclecticism, diversity and cross-cultural fusion are now firmly at the core of Ashkenaz’s organizational practice, alongside its founding commitment to Yiddish-based cultural expression. Over this period, the Foundation has mostly functioned with a full-time staff of three (versus one, prior to 2007), while the Board’s participation has generally been limited to oversight and governance activities (versus hands-on production and planning, prior to 2007).

Currently, Ashkenaz serves a broad constituency of Jewish and multicultural artists and audiences, attracting over 60,000 people to its biennial festival, and approximately 10,000+ attendees to its year-round programs. The Festival is highly regarded locally and internationally, within both the Jewish community and the broader arts community. The Foundation is governed by an active Board of Directors comprised of a diverse group of individuals with a strong interest in Jewish culture, world music and the arts.

CLICK HERE to view Ashkenaz’s 25th Anniversary Online Exhibition (2020), including images, videos and ephemera from our first quarter century

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