Leah Houston, Artistic Director

Leah has been cultivating a dynamic, multi-disciplinary community-based arts practice for almost 15 years, incorporating public art, installation and performance with public space transformation, working with people of all ages and backgrounds. Leah has created and produced many community arts events and led a number of artists to create new work that tells the ordinary, extraordinary stories of our lives. Leah has worked with to diverse communities including in Ontario’s Muskoka Region, Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Kathmandu, Nepal. She was the recipient of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal (2013) and the Toronto Foundation Vital People's Award (2016). Leah is a graduate of York University’s Environmental Studies Department and holds an M.A from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Leah is available for speaking engagements - contact us today for more info!  leah@mabellearts.ca


Shifra Cooper, Assistant Artistic Director

Shifra Cooper is a choral conductor and community artist who brings together singers of diverse abilities and backgrounds, while creating new works with professional composers and musicians, community singers and interdisciplinary artists. Shifra is currently Assistant Artistic Director at MABELLEarts and leads choirs for Jumblies Theatre (CityPlace) and Making Room Community Arts (Parkdale). Since 2009, Shifra has collaborated on community arts projects with companies including:  Jumblies Theatre, The Bain Arts Collective, Making Room Community Arts, Thinking Rock Community Arts, Arts4All, AlgomaTrad and Vancouver Moving Theatre, in various organizational and creative roles. She received a nomination for the Leslie Bell Leslie Bell Prize for Choral Conducting in 2016 and completed her BA in Literature at the University of Toronto in 2014. Shifra's position is generously funded by a Metcalf Foundation Performing Arts Internship. shifra@mabellearts.ca


Karen Kew, Managing Director

Karen has over twenty years of experience in the not-for-profit sector as an administrator, project manager and at a board level. She is passionate about community development and driven to use her organizational skills to create effective and equitable systems so that people and organizations may thrive. While her background is in the arts, graduating with a BFA from York University, she has also worked extensively in the settlement sector focusing on financial management, systems improvement, program development and engaging diverse communities. Karen is currently the Treasurer for the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition and is a past Chair of  CFRU 99.3FM community radio station.  karen@mabellearts.ca


Christen Kong, Outreach and Project Coordinator 

Christen is currently the Outreach and Project Coordinator at MABELLEarts. She is interested in how people gather in public spaces, how art is used as a form of relation making and how communities are supported.  In 2015 she founded Talking Heads: Storytelling Collective, in Halifax. NS, to share and learn how people live their lives.  She hopes to continue to foster environments where people can flourish by living intentionally with one another (actively sharing and listening closely).  Christen graduated from Dalhousie University studying Environmental Sustainability and International Development with a minor in Cultural Anthropology. christen@mabellearts.ca


Rozeta Aleksov

Rozeta has worked with municipalities across Europe and Serbia building capacities for government employees and decision-makers for the past eleven years.  She is a promoter of interdisciplinary approaches to find solutions for urban and social challenges.  Her training predominantly focuses on citizen participation, gender equality, human rights, and sustainable development. She holds a Masters in political science, public administration and local governance in public policy.  She hopes to continue her passion and solutions at MABELLEarts. rozeta@mabellearts.ca

Fadwa Ghanem Headshot

Fadwa Ghanem, Cooking Coordinator

Fadwa met Ruth Howard, artistic director of Jumblies Theatre, in November 2006 shortly after moving to Canada. Fadwa and her whole family were part of the Jumblies’ production Bridge of One Hair in 2007. After Jumblies moved on, she volunteered with MABELLEarts in the Mabelle Ladies Cooking Circle, Mabelle Sewing Room and in the park with her children. Fadwa is an expert at many types of cooking, and enjoys working with the other ladies in the Cooking Circle, cooking together in kitchens and over the open fire in the park;  we drink Fadwa’s sage tea at every special occasion. Since the summer of 2014, Fadwa has worked with MABELLEarts as a cooking coordinator, and continues to help with cooking, sewing and other projects. 


Azka Choudhary

Azka recently graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University and Nipissing University, with a double degree: a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education. She has extensive experience working with youth in a variety of settings and is an advocate for social justice and change, particularly within the education realm. Next year, she will be pursuing graduate studies at OISE: her interests lay in deconstructing the obstacles encountered by immigrant and refugee students in their journey through Ontario’s education system. She hopes to foster growth by using a hands-on and cognizant approach to art-based activities, particularly photography. azka@mabellearts.ca


Sonya Zhang

Sonya is passionate about exploring art as a medium for social change and its ability to create a more informed and engaged society. She currently serves as the President of Ink Movement, a youth-run nonprofit organization based in the Peel Region which seeks to provide youth with a platform to explore themselves through publishing projects, conferences, and workshops. Next year, Sonya will be attending Western University to pursue a degree in Media and Business. She hopes to continue to explore her diverse interests, from art, to entrepreneurship, to community involvement. sonya@mabellearts.ca


Farah Jibril, Community & Outreach Facilitator

Farah Jibril is a Jordanian-born social work student at York University. In high school, she won the Community Involvement Award for doing over 600 hours of volunteer work. Farah has been involved with MABELLEarts since its inception and is currently a Community Facilitator. MABELLE has exposed Farah to the possibilities of work that is varied, fast-paced, and both hands-on and administrative-based. She hopes to one day sponsor a child and open a drop-in centre for girls to build their confidence and teach them skills and self-care.  

Summer Students 2017

Aseel Mohammed, Tasmeen Syed, Nada Johar, Salma Moalim (not pictured)

Community Leaders

The Mabelle Community Leaders program supports residents to take leadership in areas that feed into our larger projects and suit their skills and interests. Community Leaders of all ages are part of all or our programs: promoting projects and events at the local level; overseeing day-to-day park maintenance; cooking; sewing; building things and imagining new ways of engaging people in the neighbourhood. Each year, approximately ten percent of our operating budget goes to honoraria and wages for Community Leaders.

Board of Directors

Kris Erikson, Chair

Kris Erickson is an artist, activist, and educator who is both interested in and in awe of the interdisciplinary and ambitious work of community artists and arts organizations like MABELLEarts. Trained as a photographer, Kris is interested in exploring how camera images and camera use can be made more accessible to communities for constructing shared and cooperative visions of the city, its neighbourhoods, its cultures, and their unique characteristics. With his partner, Kris has two wonderfully unreasonable children. He currently teaches at Ryerson University.

Beth Helmers

Beth Helmers is a theatre artist whose practice encompasses directing, performance, and collaborative performance creation. She is the artistic director of the Community Arts Guild, a community-engaged arts company based in East Scarborough; in this capacity, she has the great privilege of creating performances with, by, and for the people in the neighbourhood alongside a wonderful interdisciplinary team of artists and local residents.  She also works regularly with Jumblies Theatre and Young People’s Theatre. Beth has been an associate professor in the acting program at Ryerson University, the recipient of a George Cedric Metcalf Foundation performing arts internship, and holds a BFA in acting from Ryerson University.

Denise Pinto

Denise fell in love with MABELLEarts when sitting cross-legged on the grass, watching a cardboard time machine rumble into the future, filled with the tiny faces of neighbourhood kids. When she isn't being delighted by community arts, Denise rides on local buses in cities across Canada producing an audio-storytelling project called Bus Rides with Urbanists, which offers a portrait of Canadian city life from the perspective of residents. Formerly the Executive Director of the global Jane's Walk project, Denise has been focused on shaping, and advocating for, inclusive, citizen-led initiatives here in Toronto for nearly a decade, by holding board positions at Open Streets Toronto, Walk Toronto, and at OALA's Ground Magazine, where she frequently contributes. Trained as a landscape architect, Denise has delivered keynote lectures in Vienna, Hong Kong, and Chicago on the importance of connected communities. She is the recipient of a Medal of Excellence from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and in 2016, she was named a Vital Person by the Toronto Foundation.

Sujata Thapa Bhattarai

Sujata is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Toronto, Program in Planning . She have expertise working in South Asia on women's rights, conflict transformation, urban planning, infrastructure and transportation. Her interest is in feminist geography and planning and understanding how countries in transition work towards democracy.

Anna Hill 

Anna Hill is Project Director of Together Project, a new initiative to connect Government-Assisted Refugee newcomers with volunteer Welcome Groups for friendship and settlement support. A community builder and designer, Anna worked previously for the environmental non-profit Park People. While at Park People, Anna worked with councillors and community groups in Toronto’s 44 wards. She managed initiatives such as the Weston Family Parks Challenge, the TD Park Builder’s Program, Parks 44, Catalyst Parks and the annual Toronto Park Summit. Trained as an architect, Anna spent the first part of her career at Marmol Radziner and Associates, focused on the design of large-scale community projects in Los Angeles.  While in LA, she also managed a volunteer arts organization called Heavy Trash.

Huda Bukhari

Huda Bukhari has been a dedicated member of the settlement service sector for approximately two decades. An immigrant to Canada herself, she began her career as a frontline worker for newcomers, working up to her current position as the Executive Director at the Arrab Community Centre of Toronto.Outside of these roles, Huda has presented at various conferences on refugee and immigrant issues in Canada, and is a past Executive Board member at the Canadian Centre for Refugees as well as Sojourn House.