About Darren O’Donnell

“Darren O’Donnell is trying to make you uncomfortable, and he will do almost anything to help you enjoy the experience.”

Robert Everett-Green, The Globe and Mail

Darren O’Donnell is an urban cultural planner, novelist, essayist, playwright, filmmaker, performance director and the Artistic and Founding Director of Mammalian Diving Reflex. With a M.Sc. in urban planning from the University of Toronto, he brings a rigorous and robust social scientific approach to his art-making and the advice he offers to others through his consulting practice. He helps organizations connect with their locale, not only affecting and strengthening community but changing the lives of those he advises and those they engage.

Darren’s latest book Haircuts by Children and Other Evidence for a New Social Contract is an innovative proposal for the radical inclusion of children. Darren insists that working with kids in the cultural industries can be a pilot for a vision of a very different role for young people in the world — one that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child considers a “new social contract.”


Darren’s mission is to weave a social fabric that deeply embeds culture and cultural institutions, raising their social responsiveness. He takes his cue from a Beuysian understanding of the aesthetic as being in opposition to the anaesthetic, subverting numbness with feeling, risking discomfort along the way toward higher and higher levels of social intelligence.


Darren was the 2000 winner of the Pauline McGibbon Award for directing and has been nominated for a number of Toronto’s Dora Awards for his writing, directing, and acting, winning (with Naomi Campbell) for their design of White Mice. His play Boxhead was nominated for a Chalmers Award and he received a Gabriel Award for excellence in broadcasting for his CBC radio piece Like a Fox. His Mammalian Protocol for Collaborating with Children was awarded the 2012 Children Rights Award from the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of the Child. His work with Mammalian made the 2016 Yerba Beuna Culture Centre’s 100 list; has been twice nominated for Germany’s BKM-Preis Kulturelle Bildung; and for NYC’s inaugural Ellen Stewart Award. He has a BFA in acting, studied Shiatsu and Traditional Chinese Medicine at The Shiatsu School of Canada and has a M.Sc. in urban planning from the University of Toronto.

Get in touch with Darren for more information. For information related to his performance company Mammalian Diving Reflex, please visit Mammalian’s site