Connecting Toronto artists to communities—and one another

Connecting Toronto artists to communities—and one another

Toronto’s Neighbourhood Arts Network is tasked with strengthening the relationship between culture and community on a city-wide scale. Angie Aranda, the organization’s Manager of Strategic Partnerships & Operations, and Parul Pandya, Manager of Community Engagement & Communications, told me about their work.

How would you describe Neighbourhood Arts Network and its role in Toronto at large?

Angie: Neighbourhood Arts Network is a connector for artists who are looking for opportunities and looking to be connected with arts organizations or other communities.

Usually artists are working in silos and have very limited opportunities for connections, whether they’re a visual artist and interested in collaborating with a musician or a sculptor interested in collaborating with a dancer. We make those connections available through our network.

We also work very closely with other arts organizations and the private sector to bring some interesting programming, to help increase the capacity for artists as well as for the community arts sector.

And we connect community to the arts. There are a lot of community members and social services organizations out there who want to connect their constituents to the arts activities happening in Toronto or work in collaboration with artists. So we’re really that conduit, that connector of resources.

Parul: We also offer a lot of professional development opportunities. The community arts sector is an ever-changing sector, and it has to be reflective of the demographic and communities that we’re serving. We offer professional development networking training opportunities for local arts organizations and artists to be able to access what’s relevant now.

Also, through our website we provide online resources that allow artists to access what they need, as well as a networking opportunity. We have about 1,500 members. The Neighbourhood Arts Network portal allows individuals to identify what kind of artist they are and what kind of work they do.

How do you go about evaluating demographics in a community and trying to serve those changing communities? How does that look in practice?

Angie: We start with consulting our network and figuring out what their needs are. Also we seek out very strategic partnerships, depending on the communities that we want to connect with. For example, about three years ago we launched a newcomer artist program, and we connected with organizations working with immigrants. It’s super important to have healthy relationships blossoming, so we strike up those relationships first and build them before we even start thinking about programs.

Why was it started?

Angie: It started in 2010. The Toronto Arts Foundation held consultations because it wanted to see where the gaps were for artists in the sector. What came from those conversations was the need to connect with one another. Artists were really yearning for more opportunities to connect with other artists, other like-minded individuals, and with people outside of their discipline.

Can you tell me about the Toronto Arts Foundation more generally?

Angie: The Toronto Arts Foundation works with the private sector to build strategic partnerships in order to meet the gaps and the barriers between artists. It also works with the public sector to build strategic partnerships in order to meet the gaps and the barriers facing artists in the city.

What other programs or initiatives does it offer?

Parul: Currently the Toronto Arts Foundation is in the process of what we call our Block by Block arts initiative. Eventually what we’re trying to do—again, keeping in mind that we’re neighborhood-focused—is move through the city of Toronto and empower each neighborhood by creating activations and access to the multidisciplinary arts through programming; though investing in artists that are working in communities as well as artists that are working for communities.

Artists were really yearning for more opportunities to connect with other artists.

This is part of our larger strategic plan. As part of the larger Toronto Arts Foundation, essentially our goal is to use the foundation to leverage artistic resources in priority areas around the city. So for example, the United Way has identified 13 priority neighborhoods within the Toronto area. The priority designations are governed by a lot of social factors—it might be cultural isolation; it might be lower income brackets; and it may be just generally a lack of social integration for newcomers. So the Toronto Arts Foundation uses awards programs to draw attention to excellence in those neighborhoods and engage private donors to give private support in the sector.

Why do the public- and private-sector actors involved in the Toronto Arts Foundation feel like the arts are a good investment?

Parul: We’re in a good place when it comes to culture because our current mayor, John Tory, is a big supporter of arts and culture, which has been fantastic for the city as a whole. He’s actually investing a lot of dollars and has increased the arts and culture budget, so that gives us a lot to work with. Really we’re seeing a cultural boom. There’s a lot of strategies going around in the city—for example, we’re vying to host the World Expo 2025. The city government is also working on a strategic initiative called Music City; essentially we want to be identified as the leading cultural innovator and supporter of music. So there’s a lot of momentum, and so much opportunity to grow.

For example, we have an initiative called Arts in the Parks. There are about 15 or 20 parks that have been identified across the city of Toronto, and each of these parks will have an arts and cultural activation within this year. So we have the space; we have the opportunity; we have people from various cultural backgrounds and artists from so many different types of disciplines. So now that we recognize the power of these things, it’s really a matter of how to properly highly the talent to achieve the recognition that the artists deserve.

Image: Sam Javanrough / CC by 2.0

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