This year’s Culture Days @ The Library engaged over 2,000 people across Toronto!
Check out the Culture Days Ontario Flickr Set to see more Culture Days 2011 photos.
Whippersnapper Gallery has partnered with ArtStarts this summer to facilitate a youth street art mentorship project. Using recycled and found objects as their materials, youth are working alongside professional artists to create artwork that challenges traditional notions of both trash and art.
The sensory pleasures that art can incite are boundless in extent, and inimitable in effect. But what I find most fascinating about art, and particularly about community art, is the potential it holds to spark dialogue and engagement. By communicating familiar ideas in imaginative, unconventional ways, artists continually provoke audiences to challenge their own assumptions and opinions. Innovative modes of representation force viewers to broaden their perspective, and in doing so, art can serve as a powerful instigator of social change.
Whippersnapper Gallery’s Take Me With You is an inspiring example of how art can rouse healthy debate, and encourage community members to question mainstream ideology. The program will run until the end of August, and involves a number of different projects, collaborations and events. Components range from music shows to panel discussions and installations, but all aspects share the mandate to “re-imagine the use, importance, and social significance of objects and materials cast away by others.”
At the centre of Whippersnapper’s packed agenda is a 5-week Youth Street Art Mentorship project, facilitated in partnership with ArtStarts. Whippersnapper’s artistic director Joshua Barndt has worked with ArtStarts for nearly a decade, assisting them in their community arts projects. This spring, Barndt approached ArtStarts with a proposal to hire youth from Alexandra Park in a pilot youth mentorship project. After receiving the support of ArtStarts and the City of Toronto’s Graffiti Transformation Project, Whippersnapper began recruiting local participants.
For each of the first three weeks, a different visiting artist or art collective led the youth in a specific installation or project. The first week saw Sean Martindale teach participants how to create his trademark poster planters, by transforming illegal posters into beds for potted plants. The next week was led by Sasha Foster and Felix Kalmenson, who helped the youth assemble neighbourhood shrines from local debris. Although some of the shrines have since been dismantled, the group has found strategies to promote synergy between the community and their work.
“Working with trash material, sometimes people can get a negative vibe,” Barndt explained. “But whenever we include some sort of living plant in our work, people are more likely to get a positive impression. They assume that since it’s being taken care of, the shrine is intentional and a positive thing. We also want the neighbourhood to be included in the project, so we’ve posted signs to encourage passers-by to contribute, and left watering buckets for the plants so that the community can participate.”
The third week of the project involved public sculpture-making with Urban Trash Art, a collective from Sao Paulo that works exclusively in trash materials. Together, the group refurbished an underused neighbourhood structure into a colourful and whimsical playground for kids in the Atkinson Housing Co-op.
For the final two weeks, the youth will work on a permanent and self-initiated installation at the Scadding Court Community Centre. Applying the tools and techniques they’ve learned from their artist mentors, the group will incorporate found materials like cans and tires into their final project. Using such untraditional materials to create something beautiful has solicited a range of responses, from skepticism and confusion to laudatory acclaim. But in our current climate of reckless over-consumption and irresponsible waste disposal, this is the type of inventive project that can stimulate exciting social change.
Take Me With You will run until the end of August. To find out more, please visit
Amy Goudge is the Summer 2011 Membership Intern at the Neighbourhood Arts Network.
After three years of project planning and execution, Art on the Move has completed its initiative to beautify Toronto through ‘art-wrapped’ vehicles. On Tuesday, June 14, the five newest additions to their fleet of painted vehicles were unveiled at The Assembly Hall. Local leaders and participants gathered to celebrate the achievements of the volunteer contributors, whose hard work will be enjoyed for years to come.
While the gallery world is plagued with accusations of elitism and inaccessibility, public art can be equally problematic. As advertisements occupy more and more of the public landscape, audiences are left with little to enjoy freely, without the intrusion of commercial intent. Addressing this scarcity of benign public art, Arts Etobicoke and Lakeshore Arts partnered to launch the Art on the Move initiative.
Promoting itself as a “mobile arts project,” Art on the Move enlisted local artists to lead community groups in the painting of donated vehicles. The finished products will be used throughout the GTA, brightening the streets with travelling works of art.
With the generosity of vehicle owners and volunteer participants, the project has transformed 13 vehicles over its three year span. Vehicles involved range from cube vans, to trucks, to a 32 foot sailboat.
This year, the participating groups included CAMH, Creative Village Studio, Toronto Public Library’s Youth Advisory Group, Stonegate Community Health Centre, and the Second Base Youth Shelter. Lead artists collaborated with their designated team to devise an artistic design that reflected the group’s community and values. The results are striking, with animated motifs serving as a welcome change from facades that are typically barren or plastered with ads.
In addition to contributing to the visual appeal of public space, the initiative’s employment of community groups prompted empowerment and personal growth. Engaging citizens in producing something tangible fostered skill development and self-confidence, while the positive learning environment provided participants with a haven of support and camaraderie.
Although Art on the Move celebrated its conclusion on June 14, the bounty yielded from the innovative project will surely be enjoyed for years to come.
Amy Goudge is the Summer 2011 Membership Intern at Neighbourhood Arts Network.
The Sherbourne Health Centre has partnered with Red Dress Productions to facilitate a community-engaged mosaic project. They will host a reception and official unveiling of the mosaic on Tuesday, June 21 at 7 PM. Refreshments and special guests will be included, as will an opportunity to name the mosaic. Check out this link for more information.
Located at the intersection of Regent Park, St James Town and the Church-Wellesley Village, the Sherbourne Health Centre (SHC) serves a diversity of communities in southeast Toronto. The Centre’s primary concern is providing accessible health care, affording particular attention to Canadian newcomers, the LGBT community, and the homeless and under-housed. As an interdisciplinary community centre, the SHC is more than a traditional health-care provider; outreach, mentoring, health promotion and education programs are central components of their programming. This broad range of services has contributed to the Centre’s role as a place of social connection and engagement for local residents. Providing a welcoming, safe oasis within a rapidly changing area, the SHC has become a neighbourhood hub of inclusive activity and interaction. Although it has only been open for eight years, many local residents have formed close attachments to the SHC, and consider it an essential resource for the surrounding communities.
This local appreciation is evident in the overwhelming participation in the SHC’s mosaic project, which will be mounted on the facility’s exterior wall when completed. In partnership with community-arts facilitator Red Dress Productions, the SHC invited clients and local residents to contribute to the mosaic. After years of thoughtful planning and careful preparation, the project is finally nearing its culmination: the mosaic will be unveiled on Tuesday, June 21. I spoke with lead artist and Red Dress co-founder Anna Camilleri about the project, and how public arts can benefit a community.
Anna and co-lead artist Tristan R. Whiston are local residents themselves, and have been involved with the Health Centre for years as both artists and mentors. A few years ago, they realized that they would love to spearhead a community-engaged arts venture with the Centre, recognizing its importance within the region. After successfully pitching the idea to the SHC, and securing project funding from the Toronto Arts Council and Ontario Arts Council, Anna and Tristan began the preliminary stages of planning the project.
The difficulty in designing something for community participation, Anna says, is balancing exciting aesthetics with achievability. An essential quality of this project is its total accessibility: Anna and Tristan were adamant about including everyone who wanted to contribute. To accommodate this ethos, they had to ensure a multitude of tasks that could suit a range of participants. The flexible medium of mosaic helped in this regard, as it requires minimal dexterity, and allows for a number of people to work simultaneously. Anna’s design further develops the project’s versatility, by strategically incorporating elements of varying difficulty.
The end result is visually impressive, but the array of contributors is even more extraordinary. Anna tells me that over 300 community members have contributed in some way, offering everything from conceptual ideas to tile-cutting labour. Participants include a wide variety of ages, genders, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, artistic experiences, and health statuses. The youngest contributor is two, and the oldest is in her nineties; people with degrees of blindness were also able to contribute, since mosaic is a tactile medium.
In addition to beautifying the neighbourhood, one of the project’s major purposes is to capture the spirit of the Health Centre, and then broadcast that message to local residents. “The current [SHC] building doesn’t really represent the vibrancy of its programs- we heard this from many clients and community members during the consultations,” Anna says. With colourful panels that feature symbolic imagery, Anna hopes to communicate the SHC’s positive atmosphere to the general public.
“We want people to walk by and think, ‘I’m welcome here.’”
As Anna often finds with community-engaged arts, the process itself has proven equally as important as the intended product. It is the first program at the SHC that brings together clients and employees from all of its sectors, providing an anomalous opportunity for inter-disciplinary connection.
“What’s great is that people who come for certain programs get the chance to meet community members who use other [SHC] services. It also brings together the different workers; a chiropractor might be working alongside a maintenance worker or a nurse.”
With music playing in the background while people work in the studio, stories and jokes tend to flow between participants, creating a convivial atmosphere of bonding and trust. The community has enjoyed working on the project so much that, in anticipation of the mosaic’s imminent conclusion, they’ve already started thinking about starting another art project in the neighbourhood.
When asked to offer advice to fellow community arts practitioners, Anna emphasizes one thing: be realistic about your work. Organizing a community-engaged project entails endless tasks and responsibilities, and Anna says it’s easy to underestimate the time commitment required. If the Sherbourne Health Centre mosaic is any example, though, the hard work can lead to both stunning works of public art, and unique opportunities for community rejuvenation.
Amy Goudge is the Summer 2011 Membership Intern at the Neighbourhood Arts Network.
RED DRESS PRODUCTIONS (RDP) creates and disseminates interdisciplinary art and performance projects, and works with/in communities on large-scale, community-engaged public artworks. Founded in 2005 by Artistic Co-Directors Anna Camilleri and Tristan R. Whiston, RDP is particularly interested in collaborative artistic practices, and the interaction between community narratives and urban public space. For information about Red Dress Productions, please visit
> or email <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
All images are courtesy of the Red Dress Productions blog.
On April 21st, 2011 the Neighbourhood Arts Network and Scarborough Arts brought together artists and cultural workers from across Toronto at AccessPoint on Danforth. The topic for discussion was bridging the gap that exists between arts communities in the downtown core and the inner suburbs.
The event started off with two short presentations, providing context for the following discussions. Tim Whalley, Executive Director of Scarborough Arts touched on some of the realities of arts programming in the inner suburbs. Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival’s Heather Keung (Artistic Director) and Louanne Chan (Director of Marketing) then spoke about Reel Asian’s work connecting with new audiences outside the downtown core. Over forty representatives of arts organizations based in the inner suburbs and the downtown core participated in small group discussion. Wide‐ranging conversations touched on issues such as: infrastructure, communication, and partnering.
Over forty representatives of arts organizations based in the inner suburbs and the downtown core participated in small group discussion. Wide‐ranging conversations touched on issues such as: infrastructure, communication, and partnering.
We have compiled a summary of notes taken during this discussion; they are organized into three sections: Challenges and Solutions, General Observations and Misconceptions, and How Can We Connect? Many insightful solutions/strategies were developed in response to difficulties commonly faced by arts groups, such as how to overcome the geographic and communication barriers that make it challenging to forge partnerships, and how to facilitate the exchange of resources and information between downtown and suburban groups.
Many insightful solutions/strategies were developed in response to difficulties commonly faced by arts groups, such as how to overcome the geographic and communication barriers that make it challenging to forge partnerships, and how to facilitate the exchange of resources and information between downtown and suburban groups.
We hope these notes will help you in your efforts to connect with other arts communities in Toronto.
If you have any questions or if there is anything you would like to add to our “Bridging the Gap” discussion please contact email@example.com
Katie Fry is the Spring 2011 Research Intern at the Neighbourhood Arts Network
Check out this video by the Sustainable Thinking and Expression on Public Space (STEPS) Initiative, a group of artists, activists, architects, and academics, collectively promoting sustainable and community-centred public spaces.
On March 17, 2011 at Montgomery’s Inn in Etobicoke, MABELLEarts and the Neighbourhood Arts Network hosted a discussion and networking session focused on the topic of Artistic Excellence and Community-Engaged Arts. Read on to discover NAN Membership Intern Teodora Porumb’s thoughts on the event.
The Neighbourhood Arts Network’s networking events are meant to catalyze new discussions and stronger relationships among community-engaged artists, organizations and cultural workers of the GTA in an effort to strengthen their capacity to enrich our cultural landscape. These events are dynamic, progressive and exciting as the community arts field is continuously expanding, redefining and transforming itself.
The theme of the second round-table event of this year was organized with MABELLEarts and took place at the historic Montgomery Inn on March 17. The topic centered around artistic excellence and community-engaged arts.
“The term artistic excellence stirs up many definitions and some feelings of discomfort within the community-engaged arts field. Community-engaged art signifies a particular art-making practice emphasizing community collaboration, empowerment and some form of social change. Does it seem then that this field, compared to the institutionalized ‘art world’, requires a separate standard for artistic merit evaluation?”
Perhaps the solution can be found by working to expand community-engaged workers’ ability to express the existing diversity of excellence that emerges from this practice. Leah, MABELLEarts facilitator, reminded us that we, as community-engaged artists, are at the forefront of defining our own criteria for artistic excellence.
Representatives from four organizations, Jumblies Theatre, Asian Arts Freedom School, Whippersnapper Gallery, and the Ontario Arts Council, sparked the discussion by presenting their goals, examples of recent projects, and their views on artistic excellence’s relevancy. The lively discussion that followed provided NAN members with an open space to ask questions and raise issues, concerns, as well as possible approaches to dealing with them.
Beth Helmers and Sean Frey of Jumblies Theatre focused on the extent of an artist’s control over the direction of community arts projects and their need to trust in the community members with whom they working. A dialogue of holding on and letting go is critical, as demonstrated through Jumblies’ recent collaborative project with MABELLEarts, “A Light in Mid-Winter”. The artist facilitators asked participants to create sculptures based on ‘what winter would look like’ and ‘vocabulary of movement’. Group members were able to explore their individual visions because the facilitators chose a form of expression that suited the skills and abilities of the group.
“It is often difficult as community-engaged artists to find the right balance between taking and relinquishing control, as we must overcome our own assumptions and expectations of the group with which we are working.”
The theme of power dynamics between artists and communities came up in the group discussion. It is often difficult as community-engaged artists to find the right balance between taking and relinquishing control, as we must overcome our own assumptions and expectations of the group with which we are working. We reached an understanding that an aesthetic can embody a power structure but it must make room within a given art form for new aesthetics to emerge, that are beyond the structured aesthetic forms. Indeed, Michael Burt’s understanding of power dynamic has changed with the Parkdale Community Centre community in which we works, as members are taking on stronger roles. This is what we all ultimately hope for; community members to develop their skills, explore their passions, expand their confidence, and make a difference in their community.
Gein Wong, from the Asian Arts Freedom School, stressed the importance of building relationships between artists and participants. This radical Asian history and activism program for Asian/Pacific Islander youth has the long-term goal of providing a nurturing, consistent space for arts development to flourish as part of the youth’s entire lives so that once students finish the programs, they can continue to make art. For example, the organizations’ media arts program has enabled participants to emerge onto the film festival scene. Relationships of this sort usually naturally evolve. Asian Arts Freedom School reminds us to take a look at our own practices, as individual artists and organizations, to see in what ways we could be fostering more profound and longer relationships with those we work with.
“Building relationships with the community at large (community members who are not active participants in a particular arts-engaged project) is an essential aspect of community building in general. A relationship of trust within the community establishes, or at least aids in, the reception of the created art.”
Whippersnapper Gallery’s approach cannot necessarily be named ‘community-engaged art’ in the sense I have been using it as the gallery does not primarily facilitate community-engaged projects. The focus of Whippersnapper Gallery is to ‘offer young artists an opportunity to mount conceptually engaged and aesthetically resolved exhibitions’. Artistic excellence, for them, is found in the realm of curation, in the selection of artists of the new generation under thirty, who create work that is informed by contemporary arts issues that are relevant to the community. Content as well as context are essential deciding factors in terms of what they view an artist to be: “free, responsible, and courageous.”
Joshua Barndt and Adrian Dilena mentioned that they are interested in developing long-terms relationships with emerging artists to develop their careers, but they are also passionate about sparking thought-provoking dialogues with passers-by. The gallery location at 594B Dundas Street West (at Augusta) and its grand window provide the opportunity for the community surrounding the gallery to become engaged in the artist’s exhibit. Artwork is sometimes spread onto the street as it transforms into a larger artist space.
During Nader Hazan’s recent Whippersnapper show featuring taxidermied animals, discussions about the artist’s concept and choices were encouraged, showing that the artists’ themes and concerns actually overlap with those of community members. The exhibit was concerned with ’…dead animals as having a small part in this very ancient relationship between the living and the dead, a relationship which is often denied or disguised in contemporary society, but which is, as the artist points out, concrete, material and ultimately irreducible.’ Through his art, passers-by are, ’challenged to engage in it consciously, and without the usual filters that wrap and package death today.’
Whippersnapper hopes to facilitate further dialogue and exploration of community-engaged art and to create new partnerships and relationships with community artists.
It here that the issue of labeling ‘community art’ arises. In many situations, communities know they are a community so, how do we to negotiate labeling their work as ‘community art’?
This issue is especially evident after artists and community members have worked together for a long period and the participants begin to identify themselves as artists. In this situation, differences of opinion emerge that may contradict the facilitator’s view of what constitutes an ‘artist’. Indeed, diverse ‘types’ of artists can fit within the label of ‘artist’. Furthermore, the development of strong relationships between the facilitators and emergent artists can soften these tensions.
Another more poignant issue in the realm of community-engaged art concerns the difference between ‘community arts’ and the ‘arts community’; between art and aesthetics, criteria regarding art for its own sake and art for excellence.
Loree Lawrence from the Ontario Arts Council provided a funder’s perspective on artistic excellence. She emphasized that the decision of which projects receive funding is heavily based on the artistic merit of the project: its virtuosity, impact, context, relevance of theme, its capability of expanding standards, use of appropriate materials, and synthesis of contributions.
She explained that the jurors of OAC have no problem discerning projects based on artistic merit. The only problem may lie in a jurors’ lack of familiarity and experience with community-engaged art practices, influencing their ability to fully grasp the project’s merits. The challenge with the evaluation of arts programs is a recurrent theme in this field. Issues revolve around the complexity and tediousness of grant-writing but more importantly, its insufficiency in providing space to describe and fully present the project’s success. Community art deals with artistic excellence in terms of its success in positively affecting community participants. The experiences of participants cannot be summed up and legitimized in a 2 dimensional grant. Possible solutions are more accessible grant-writing workshops as well as workshops on Arts-Informed Evaluation. Arts for Children and Youth has facilitated several workshops on this subject and continues to develop it.
The general sentiment at the end of this round-table discussion was that there is a great need and desire for such gatherings. Pertinent issues and concerns were raised that need further dialogue to be resolved. One thing is for sure; we accomplished a lot in terms of building relationships with one another and expanding our networks. We had a great time in the process through mingling, and decorating our building blocks with our deepest concerns and appreciations for this field.
These progressive gatherings will continue to bring together the amazing community-engaged artists and cultural workers to pave the way for a more impactful community-arts field in Toronto and a more vibrant community of artists and cultural workers.
Perhaps a look at the various reports found on NAN’s website, in the section “Reading Room,” can shed more light upon the successes and ongoing necessity for community-engaged arts, locally and worldwide, at this moment in history.
Continue to update your profile with your latest projects, share NAN with other organizations and artists you come across, and stay tuned for future round-table events!
Special thanks to Montgomery’s Inn, MABELLEarts, and all the participants for making this event possible!
Teodora Porumb is the Spring 2011 Membership Intern at the Neighbourhood Arts Network.
Promote your work with communities at our resource fair
Learn about how artists can partner with libraries
Toronto Public Library: How artists can connect with libraries
Neighbourhood Arts Network: Finding artists in your community
Supporting Our Youth: Nobody can tell your story but you
Jumblies Theatre: Making art in unexpected places
Red Slam: Indigenous traditions meet contemporary hip hop
An important part of this event is a space for community-engaged artists to display their materials and connect with public library staff. Table space is free.
For tabling information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: May 12, 2011
Cost: free (registration required)
Location: Northern District Library, a short walk from Eglinton Station
Update: This event is now full and registration is closed!
Please contact email@example.com for more information
Community Arts Network is gone but not forgotten. CAN has been a valuable resource for artists, activists and researchers committed to the intersection of art and community and all the exciting possibilities that emerge out of community-engaged work.
Thanks to CAN the field had a website connection filled with information and resources that helped deepen our thinking about community arts and made feel less isolated as we read about work going on all over the world or in our own backyard.
Linda Frye Burnham and Steve Durland’s tireless efforts kept CAN operating for many years and for that they deserve our immense gratitude. CAN could not find funds to continue to operate, they put out a plea for assistance and many people rallied but in the end there was not sufficient financial support to carry on.
CAN’s invaluable contribution to the field is their collection of articles and resources. Fortunately it will not be lost. Indiana University Bloomington Libraries, and the American Folklore Society are pleased to announce that the CAN Web site has been archived as part of the Open Folklore project, an online portal to open-access digital folklore content. IU Bloomington Libraries offered to capture the CAN Web site using Archive-It so the contents could be preserved.
The archived CAN is static, but is fully text searchable, though some external links and some internal scripted functions may no longer work. It is, however, a unique and permanent record of the site as it existed at the time. Users may visit the archived site at
We can stay in touch with Linda and Steven and keep in touch with the CAN community by visiting the CAN Facebook page.