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How cooking together can build trust and spur creativity

Metcalf’s Creative Strategies Incubator makes a substantial ask of its participants. Each year, it brings together a group of performing arts companies to address an issue currently facing their industry. Over a three-year period, they share their learning, build upon each other’s solutions, and embrace often uncomfortable truths.

Critical to the Incubator’s success is its ability to build an active learning network in which participants can benefit from each other’s diverse knowledge and experiences. So how does Metcalf, as facilitator, create an environment that encourages this capacity for candour and trust? It’s a question that Michael Trent, Metcalf’s Performing Arts Program Director, has been pondering since he joined Metcalf in late 2015.

“We’d heard from past participants that they wanted opportunities to get to know their cohorts more deeply and instinctively,” says Trent. “I was interested in discovering how to remove the stress of feeling scrutinized that would normally accompany a new group coming together to engage in a long-term project.”


On September 21, Trent brought the 2016 Creative Strategies Incubator cohort to the Depanneur, an eatery and community hub that opens its kitchen to anyone with a passion for food. Led by Chef Michael Tong, the cohort split into small teams to tackle a menu of green salad, truffled risotto, seared salmon, and zabaione.

“There’s so much power in the simplicity of making food together,” explains Trent. “It deals with a very finite goal, and the personal choices that exist inside of that. It provides a space to understand people very differently. Food and cooking nourish us…it’s fundamentally human.”

After the final pans were scrubbed, we reached out to the cohort to discover whether this experiment in the kitchen had been a success.

Evan Webber, Public Recordings Performance Projects  ~ “I found myself relying on lots of habitual and highly gendered behaviours as a way of navigating the social uncertainty in the kitchen, noting the roles that needed to be filled.”


Jessica Lea Fleming, Native Earth Performing Arts ~ “I welcomed and appreciated that we were able to connect with our peers in a more natural, organic way. By beginning our relationships with parallel work/play and cooperation, I felt that I bonded far more quickly, and shared much more of myself, than I normally would have so early on in professional relationships.”

Evan Webber ~ “Kitchens are zones of deeply unconscious behaviour, and conscious resistance too, but the artistic context made me aware of this reliance on roles and performances. It was difficult. But there is tenderness and care in cooking and serving and cleaning up too. You learn things. Michael Tong’s refusal to provide recipe amounts was an unexpected delight.”

Jessica Lea Fleming ~ “I wonder how much more we could accomplish in our sectors with less structure? Do we always need to have an ‘anticipated’ outcome in order to make a partnership valuable? It seems that any partnership, any pairing of people and teams, could yield knowledge, connections, improvements and solutions, simply by offering new perspectives.

The question that has arisen for me is ‘why do we typically default to using camp-style icebreakers to get to know each other?’ We are adults. We are interesting. We have stories and idiosyncrasies and traits that are far more fun to discover than ‘2 Truths and a Lie.'”


Michael Trent ~ “Lovely questions started to emerge after the dinner, like what’s at stake here for the group? And what are we dealing with in the context of the 2016 focus issue [achieving artistic potential]? It’s a phenomenally personal, specific topic. How is a group going to come together and support each other, when there is potentially an enormous amount of difference on very key issues like aesthetics and value?

I personally embrace that difference, but if we’re proposing that we’re going to make a space where people are working together, then we can’t ignore that difference. Perhaps this was an opportunity to start to explore those differences so that we’re not afraid of them, that we can embrace them, and that we can ultimately find a shared language.”


Over the next three years, the six companies participating in the 2016 Creative Strategies Incubator will be sharing insights on their work and achievements via the Stories from the Inc.

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