STORIES OF NOW: ArtHeart Community Art Centre (Toronto)

ArtHeart Community Art Centre (Toronto)

If you could tell a story about your community-engaged arts initiative now, this year, what would the story be about? What are the main themes?

TS: Starting up again, rising from the ashes, surviving through COVID – we’re not out of the woods yet, but we can see a light at the end of the tunnel….How great it was to open the Summer Arts Program again (in real life) after a year-and-a-half of being closed. Kids started to come back and said how much they missed us. …Our food program is so successful! But, there are still hunger issues, people are afraid to go to food banks, afraid of crowds and some don’t know how to cook.

CD-B: A story of perseverance, of resilience. We thought it (COVID) would be 3 weeks, here we are a-year-and-a-half later. 

What are the main issues your community-engaged arts initiative faces? (e.g., social justice, environmental justice, pandemic-related, operational, financial, HR)

TS: (Operational)– we’re always struggling for money.

CD-B: (Pandemic-related) Some of our participants felt victimized. Some people were afraid to come out. 

…Mental health – many people felt isolated and lonely, had limited food – didn’t know how to get it. Many live below the poverty line.

How has your initiative been addressing these main issues?

CD-B: We’ve been calling and emailing participants and providing them with information about where to go – where to find resources needed. We’ve been providing curbside art activity kits each week outside on the terrace and being present with participants. 

TS: With our youth – through our Youth Employment Program- we’re like an anchor.  With the right precautions they have been able to keep coming into the studio (through the pandemic). We have given them jobs, kept them busy – even those without jobs come – as it’s (ArtHeart is) a safe space. Youth put together the kits, people came out to pick them up, curbside, week after week, and would show the art they made from the kit the week before. (Inspired by Wonder’neath Art Society, ArtHeart has given out over 5000 art activity kits, curbside- during the pandemic!) We’ve been consistent, it shows we care and have not forgotten about the community. 

How has the community of participants that your initiative engages with evolved in the past year (if at all)?

CD-B: They’ve grown a lot, they’ve learned to co-exist w COVID – to safely coexist with COVID. Some of our participants were very aggressive before COVID. Now they are more understanding, open, smiling a lot and have a lot of gratitude. 

TS: We’re meeting new residents through our outdoor programs. It’s a new kind of outreach – working outside each week doing curbside and terrace arts. We weren’t doing outdoor activities before. (Pre-pandemic)

How is your organization engaging with your community right now?(Logistics, pandemic public health and safety guidelines & policies, changes in the way we gather)

TS: Following (gov’t health & safety) protocols – wearing masks, sanitizing, social distancing, working outside all the time – all of our community engagement has been outside for a year-and-a-half. 

CD-B: Now we’re getting ready to move inside, we’re figuring it out; it will work out, it always works out.

What are one or two new projects your initiative implemented this year?

TS: The Meal Program (giving out individually packaged meals made in the ArtHeart kitchen at curbside pick-up).

CD-B: Art Activity Kits- curbside pick-up, Terrace Arts Program, calling participants- all new programs during COVID.

What is your initiative doing new–digitally–compared to pre-pandemic?

CD-B: Virtual programs –  we do an art workshop each week on zoom. Program, Fundraising and Board meetings are all done on zoom now. We have more presence on social media and we’ve fixed up our website. 

TS: Youth Employment Program training has all moved online including: safe food handling, and digital arts. 

Is there a recent achievement, wonderful moment, or quote you’d like to share about your initiative or its impact?

CD-B: Over this past year, I have grown a lot and appreciate the finer things in life. I’m extremely grateful that we work as a supportive team and we work towards one common goal. 

TS: We have learned how resilient we are, as we work as a team. 

As told by: Tim Svirklys – Youth Employment Program Coordinator, and Cynthia Dolar-Butcher – Program Support and Administrator, September 29th, 2021.

“STORIES OF NOW” is part of a project ArtBridges is working on with Judith Marcuse Projects’ ASCN (Arts for Social Change Network) and ICASC. It is about gathering and sharing stories emanating from the field now and about what issues and areas of focus matter.

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.