Founded in 1995, Toronto's Ashkenaz Foundation is a community-based non-profit organization dedicated to fostering an increased awareness of Yiddish and Jewish culture through the arts. With its internationally-renowned biennial festival, and a dynamic slate of year-round programming, Ashkenaz reaches over 70,000 in its 2-year programming cycle. Ashkenaz showcases the work of leading contemporary artists from Canada and around the world working in all artistic disciplines, with a particular focus on music. The Foundation's mandate is defined broadly, to include not only Klezmer, Yiddish and east European Jewish cultural arts, but many other manifestations of global Jewish music and culture, including Israeli, Sephardic, Ladino, and Mizrahi Jewish traditions. Ashkenaz is also known for championing fusion and cross-cultural exchange with artists from outside Jewish cultural traditions through commissioned works and special projects. Ashkenaz places a strong emphasis on local and emerging talent, as well as on education and community outreach. Ashkenaz forges partnerships with other entities and like-minded organizations in areas of overlapping interest or cause. Most Ashkenaz presentations are presented free to the public.
The Ashkenaz Festival is the largest Jewish cultural event in Canada, and among the largest events of its kind internationally. The Festival takes place biennially at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre and satellite locations throughout Toronto. Each edition of this multidisciplinary event showcases approximately 50-75 acts from Canada and around the world, including 200+ artists and performers working in music, theatre, dance, film, literature, craft, and visual arts. The Festival draws a diverse, multicultural audience of over 60,000 people.
The first Ashkenaz Festival took place in July 1995, emerging out of a worldwide revival of Klezmer music and Yiddish culture. Ashkenaz quickly became one of the most prestigious events of its kind, making Toronto a key centre in the international Klezmer/Yiddish scene. There were Festival editions in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014. The 7th Ashkenaz Festival in August 2008 celebrated the organization’s “Bar Mitzvah” year (13th year). The August 2014 iteration celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Foundation, and the 10th biennial Festival. The next Ashkenaz Festival scheduled for August 30-September 5, 2016.