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Shiny Happy People

Newmindspace duo bring community and fun to public spaces

The steps in front of Toronto’s Old City all have witnessed a lot in their 107-year history, but probably never a bubble-blowing celebration – until now.

On July 2, more than 300 people swarmed the corner of Queen and Bay streets to blow bubbles into the sky – and at each other – in what organizers Kevin Bracken (above, in blue) and Lori Kufner (in pink) billed as a “sister-cities bubble battle.” Similar events occurred that day in Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Pittsburgh and Philadephia.

For U of T students Kufner, 20, and Bracken, 19, the soapy, shimmery “battle” is part of their effort to reclaim urban public spaces for “blissful” happenings. Since March of last year, under the banner Newmindspace, the energetic duo have dreamt up wacky events nearly every month: subway costume parties, massive pillow fights in Toronto’s Dundas Square and New York’s Union Square, an Easter egg hunt in Kensington Market and a 500-person game of Capture the Flag on St. George Campus. They announce the events on their website,, and word spreads quickly among the 5,000 members of their online community.

It’s not all fun and games for the pair. There’s a serious, political side to what they’re doing as members of a broader movement to reclaim public space from commercial interests, build a sense of community and make city-living friendlier, safer and happier. Bracken, who’s studying political science and sociology, likes the idea of transforming urban areas in surprising ways. Kufner, who’s majoring in sociology and English, calls what they do “glamour bombing” – “creating little snippets of joy in people’s lives.” Both cite large-scale interactive public art and Dr. Seuss as major influences.

If they manage to alter someone’s daily routine, inject a little joy or inspire a new perspective, they are happy. “No one can walk through a million bubbles, or witness one of our subway parties, and be mad,” Kufner notes. “What you believe is possible suddenly changes.” Public transit holds special significance for the two. It’s where they met – on a Queen streetcar in December 2004.They were both headed to a rave and recognized each other as being part of the same fun-loving clan by their similarly outlandish outfits.

A short documentary, “Into a Newmindspace,” will be screened at the Streets to Screens Film Series at the Toronto Free Gallery this fall; the DVD is available through the group’s website. A “Pirates of the Streetcarrr Parrrty” was held in August, and plans are underfoot to find a permanent place for Newmindspace – a home for “art, music and parties,” called “the imaginarium,” says Bracken.

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