Dames Making Games is a Toronto-based arts nonprofit that focuses on creating an inclusive community for video game developers, particularly those who are transgender, nonbinary (not identifying as only a man or woman), and women. Since the start, its home has been Gamma Space, a coworking and event space for indie devs. Unfortunately, Gamma Space announced that it will be closing at the end of this year.
“It’s a major blow, but we knew the day would come that our lease would be up and renewing it financially impossible,” said Jennie Robinson Faber, DMG’s cofounder and executive director, in an email to GamesBeat. “The looming threat of losing our space is what brought the community together when the Toronto Media Arts Centre first launched its lawsuit over the facility back in 2015. Two hundred people showed up to our neighborhood library basement to share its concerns with city staff.”
DMG came together in 2012, and since then, it’s hosted numerous game jams, workshops, and events like Damage Camp, which showcased the works of local developers. It also consults with game studios and startups on how to improve diversity in their hiring practices — as well as how to retain those employees.
In addition to co-founding DMG, Faber is also the vice president of Toronto Media Arts Centre (TMAC), a non-profit that seeks to cultivate local arts and media organizations. DMG and Gamma Space are both TMAC members. Access to a physical space for TMAC organizations has always been a concern. It’s currently in the midst of a dispute with the city of Toronto and urban developer Urbancorp over a facility that it was supposed to be able to move into in 2015.
“The ability to quickly put together a workshop and respond to member interests has been imperative to our growth,” said DMG’s programming director Izzie Colpitts-Campbell. “Having a permanent home means our membership feels safe and welcome and free to create, but also organizers can easily try new things, see what worked and didn’t and adapt.”
Below is GamesBeat’s full interview with Faber and Colpitts-Campbell.
GamesBeat: How has Dames Making Games evolved over the last five years?
Faber: Dames Making Games grew out of grassroots community interest and as a response to the need for more inclusive access to independent video game arts and culture. We were able to fill that need the moment the community came together, with our access to regular physical meetup venue through a partnership with Gamma Space (a coworking space for game developers here in Toronto that opened the same month as DMG). Gamma always been our home, and our organizations have grown up together. We started running events immediately, and had held six speaker nights, two game jams and a 6-week intensive program before incorporating as a nonprofit in August 2012. DMG now offers year-round programming and exhibitions and supports over hundreds of members.
In half a decade, we’ve built a community of 500 artists, developers, studios and partners who have launched dozens of games and companies, secured close to a million dollars in public and private funding, hired hundreds of full-time employees and contractors, supported two dozen high school and college interns, run over 400 events, consulted for arts funders and industry associations across the globe – while maintaining a community-based, grassroots, inclusive and diverse space to launch all this from.
DMG is an arts nonprofit, and our programming revolves around our members. Our evolution since 2011 has been about becoming more responsive to their needs, building in administrative processes that create a more inclusive and expansive space, and ensuring work by our members is recognized.
Our programming adapts to community interests. One season we might have a bunch of tool- or programming language-focused workshops, and the next we’re focused on salons and reading nights. We have our regular speaker socials, held every month to provide a low-pressure and supportive space for folks to present their game-related projects and ideas; open work session nights on Wednesdays; our low-key game jams every couple of months; and our 6-week intensive programs for people brand-new to game design and VR.
Colpitts-Campbell: With the growth of the community and the curriculum we’ve developed, we can also bring our workshops to other organizations. Generally, we connect conferences, professional associations and other nonprofits with expertise in our membership. Right now, we’re doing game development workshops with Heydon Park Secondary School, an all-girls public high school here in Toronto.
GamesBeat: What does Gamma Space’s closure mean for the DMG community? What do you plan to do while you’re looking for a new home?
Faber: It’s a major blow, but we knew the day would come that our lease would be up and renewing it financially impossible. The looming threat of losing our space is what brought the community together when the Toronto Media Arts Centre first launched its lawsuit over the facility back in 2015. Two hundred people showed up to our neighbourhood library basement to share its concerns with city staff.
Toronto is increasingly hostile to arts nonprofits in need of space to serve their communities. We welcome tech giants that want to embed their technology in our private lives and laud our startup scene. This ecosystem relies on communities like ours to provide training, mentorship, and social support – while commercial rent skyrockets and property taxes double, pricing nonprofits out of their longtime homes and shutting new groups out. Space has been a challenge for decades, but these new commercial pressures make this the most urgent issue facing all arts groups in Toronto. We’ve been designated a UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts, but our creatives are suffering.
While we press for an interim solution to our homelessness, we’ll be bringing the DMG social on the road to local studios like Ubisoft, and downtown arts nonprofits. While dedicated space is at the core of our mandate, popping up in new spaces is an opportunity to make some new friends and we think it will be a lot of fun.
Colpitts-Campbell: The ability to quickly put together a workshop and respond to member interests has been imperative to our growth. Having a permanent home means our membership feels safe and welcome and free to create, but also organizers can easily try new things, see what worked and didn’t and adapt.
GamesBeat: Why are places and organizations like Gamma Space and TMAC important for the arts?
Faber: Networks of support – real support, like financial investment, access to space and equipment, and leaders engaged in an anti-oppressive framework prioritizing the success of marginalized people – are vital to transforming both the mainstream games culture and the media arts sector. These organizations make space for diverse voices to experience, create and share stories; to articulate different and shared values. Through partnerships, they exponentially increase the capacity of other arts organizations – in Toronto, especially film festivals – to expand their programming, engage constituents and nurture new artists. These organizations are rooted in service to art-makers, collectivity and ownership. That’s why the security of a roof and walls is critical.
Colpitts-Campbell: Space to explore and create is really what the arts is about. It’s hard to think of something more important than that. Resilience and creative resourcefulness are the greatest strengths of artists and arts communities. If we don’t have space we’ll always find some little nook or cranny to fill, but for me the greatest potential for art is possible when given more space – we will fill it. It’s why art and tech go so beautifully together. Technology is being created at such a rapid pace, half the time the industry doesn’t know what to do with it. Artists are amazing at exploring the possibilities of these new technologies and changing how we think about and build technology as a whole. Places like Gamma Space and TMAC are the conduit to get these resources out to artists.
GamesBeat: Do you believe the dispute over 36 Lisgar, the facility under dispute, is nearing its end? Is finding physical space one of the biggest challenges of running something like DMG, or is it something else?
Faber: Our lawsuit against the City of Toronto and Urbancorp is very close to being resolved. We’ve spent the last two years negotiating a settlement and we’re in the final step – waiting to sign it.
We did expect to have that done by now and to have moved in, but it’s a very complicated deal. Unfortunately, any delays to taking occupancy have a massive impact on our communities, who rely on using our space and equipment and having access to other members every day. The longer we’re without a home, the higher the cost of continuing to run our programs and support our members.
Colpitts-Campbell: With moving boxes piling up and leases ending, the pressure on TMAC to get this project’s momentum going feels very real and amazingly powerful.
Faber: We’ll do whatever we have to in order to preserve our community.
Another challenge we face is funding. We’re lucky in Canada, and especially Toronto, that our arts councils recognize video games within media arts funding envelopes and offer operating funding streams. But from the start we’ve been aiming to build an organization that doesn’t rely on grants alone. This has meant scaling what we do within the resources that we have, while ensuring instructors and artists are paid for their time and work.
GamesBeat: What’s next for DMG? Can you tell me more about Damage Camp and any other initiatives you’ve got cooking?
Faber: DMG is building a future where everyone can express themselves freely through games, where play contributes to a more just and equitable world. We are very grounded in the heart of our neighbourhood – Toronto’s West Queen West – and the history of artist-run centres here. Our mandate is to create an accessible, diverse and collaborative space where anyone can engage meaningfully with video games, digital art and immersive media art all year round, so that we can build and grow our capacity to impact culture and industry.
Colpitts-Campbell: Damage Camp was an opportunity for us to present the work our community does, and celebrate all the amazing people who make DMG what it is. We were approached by the organizing committee (Kim Koronya, Kaitlin Tremblay and Jen Costa) over the summer. The timing worked perfectly as we thought we were close to wrapping up negotiations for TMAC, and were thrilled when the TMAC board agreed it would be an amazing inaugural event in the space!
Faber: We scrubbed bathrooms and mopped floors and cleaned grime off surfaces for two days – the space had been sitting empty for years at that point and was covered in dust. It was a labor of deep love for this community and our future in that space. I’ve never been happier on my hands and knees in a toilet stall.
Colpitts-Campbell: And seeing DMG members, people from the neighborhood, folks from other organizations who’ve been waiting for TMAC for 25 years fill the space was magical.
GamesBeat: Is there any way folks can support Dames Making Games during this period of transition?
Faber: Our biggest need is financial. We make very little go a very long way, and reinvest everything into programs and support for the people who need DMG in order to make their art.
You can make a one-time or recurring donation in any amount online, or join as a member which also gives you access to our Slack group, recordings of past workshops, and more. We also have an Amazon wishlist, which is currently heavy on moving supplies. Tweets of encouragement and support to @DMGToronto mean the world to us!