It’s no secret that arts activities can be fun, inspiring, thought-provoking and illuminating. But perhaps not as well-known are the incredible ripple effects that result from the work of Ontario’s professional artists and arts organizations. We’re talking about things like:
Economic benefits – like funding new works that go on to earn a significant return on our initial investment.
Attracting tourists – and research shows that when travelers come to experience Ontario’s vibrant arts scene, they stay longer and spend more than the average tourist.
Creating jobs today – not just in the arts sector, but other sectors that benefit from arts activity.
Training for the jobs of tomorrow – providing youth with opportunities to learn key skills and launch their careers.
Offering safe, empowering spaces for vulnerable and marginalized people to feel valued, included and able to achieve their goals.
Giving you the chance to tell your story – because, whether you’re a lifelong resident of rural Ontario, a new immigrant to suburban Toronto, or an Indigenous knowledge-carrier – your personal history and experiences matter.
When the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) invests public money in the work of artists and arts organizations, we’re also investing in the ripple effects that their work generates for Ontarians, in communities across the province.
We invest in the arts because they’re essential to society. But we also invest because arts add value.
Don’t just take our word for it, though. Hear directly from OAC-supported artists and arts organizations about the ripple effects that emanate from their vital work, with new stories added every few weeks.
We’d love to hear from you about the ripple effects of your community’s arts activities. Find us on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure to use the hashtag #ArtsAddValue in your post.
Over the past decade, Toronto has become increasingly known as a hotbed of music industry talent. Most of us know the big name performers who have come to dominate the airwaves and Billboard charts. Not as well known are the new generation of producers, business minds and other creators who play a huge role behind the scenes in revolutionizing and sustaining the sector.
“It’s obvious that there’s lots of talent in Ontario, in Toronto,” notes Annalie Bonda, the executive director of The Remix Project – a creative arts training program in Toronto for promising but underserved youth. “It’s a matter of everyone working together to lift that up and provide international recognition and being able to see those success stories come back.”
And that’s exactly what The Remix does. By creating an environment where everyone lifts each other up, they are actively levelling the playing field, opening doors, and empowering participants in their communities and careers.
“There are so many incredible things that can come from it.”
Established in 2006, The Remix Project is a training program for youth aged 16 to 24 looking to pursue a career path in the creative arts – from music to graphic design and photography and videography. It’s specifically designed for young people who have already put a lot of work into their craft, but who, for a variety of reasons, don’t have access to the formal resources, training or networks that would help them ascend to the next stage of their careers. It’s about helping these emerging creators succeed, while also developing a more diverse workforce in Ontario’s cultural and creative industries.
Crucially, the Remix’s training programs are completely free of charge as Bonda explains, “When you [level the] playing field, by taking away financial barriers or [providing] access to resources, and you give that to the young person and let their talent thrive – there are so many incredible things that can come from it.”
Because they don’t charge tuition fees, public funding is key to The Remix’s ongoing operations. “The Ontario Arts Council believes in what we do as a community and they believe that we can help bring these youth and these artists forward and help them advance,” states Bonda. We wouldn’t be able to do this type of work without that type of funding from them.”
Did you know? 78% of Canadians believe that the arts help children from disadvantaged communities succeed.
Source: Building the Case for Business Support of the Arts. The Strategic Counsel for Business for the Arts, February 2015.
Setting the tone for success
Youth accepted into the nine-month program focus on one of three streams: education, employment or entrepreneurship. At the end of the program, there’s a graduation celebration that also serves as a talent showcase for industry players – including music labels, corporate partners and potential employers.
Remix’s training program is designed to provide not only technical training, but also one-on-one mentorship and life skills development – all in a supportive community environment. It’s this precise combination that participants value so much.
“Every day, a young person tells me how much their life has been impacted by not just The Remix Project, but the community itself,” says Bonda. “That they were able to get into doors that they wouldn’t have without being a part of this network, without being a part of this industry, without having the support. And being able to knock down some of those doors, and push those glass ceilings, open up their eyes and their vision, and allow their artistry to just live, is something that will always keep this organization moving forward.”
Started from Toronto, now we’re here
These days, The Remix Project isn’t just moving forward – it’s blasting full steam ahead and getting attention from all around the world. Now, they receive applications from places as far-flung as the U.K., Australia, and countries all over Asia. “Part of that is because our alumni continue to champion the work we do,” explains Bonda.
And of course, a large number of Remix alumni are making strides on an international scale and elevating Canada’s reputation in the arts. Some of those star participants include Juno award-winning singer and songwriter Jessie Reyez and Matthew Romeo, an accomplished DJ who performs with big name artists such as Wyclef Jean.
Did you know? Arts and culture play an important role in building Ontario’s brand and international reputation for creativity, innovation and excellence.
Stability to embark on the next steps
Ultimately, though, Remix’s goal isn’t to create stars – it’s to invest in artists as people and as future leaders. “It’s one thing to recognize commercial success stories, but also the many success stories of the people who are coming back, to contributing to their community, that is really important,” says Bonda.
“Many of our graduates continue to say to us that The Remix Project changed their life, and it changed their life not just for them personally, but it also changed their community,” she continues. “I think that will always resonate with me and with everyone at Remix – that not only are we changing the life and impacting one person, we’re changing the community around them.”
With support from the Ontario Arts Council, Remix hopes to flourish for years to come. “What the Ontario Arts Council has been able to provide Remix is stability, sustainability and belief in the work that we do,” says Bonda. “It is core of what it is that Remix does, and the reliability that the next steps are always going to be in sight for us.”
Some of history’s best-known artists – from musicians and writers to painters and actors – are known to have struggled with mental health and addiction. Often overlooked, is that artists with mental health and addiction challenges can thrive creatively and personally when they have access to the right support systems and opportunities.
That’s where Workman Arts comes in. For more than 30 years, this organization has been empowering people with mental health and addiction challenges by providing a refuge for creative exploration and the chance to become active in a vibrant artistic community. Through their three decades of experience, the organization knows first-hand how both of these play an integral role in facilitating recovery and maintaining health.
Reducing Isolation, Creating Community
The story of Workman Arts begins in 1987, when Lisa Brown – a psychiatric nurse at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) – made a fateful observation. Patients in psychiatric treatment often feel stuck and bored, which only exacerbates their challenges and slows their recovery. Brown’s idea was to get patients involved in a theatre production – an art form chosen because there were many different ways that people could participate (for example as actors, writers, set painters or dancers).
The first show was a success – and what began as an eight-artist production continued to gather momentum. In 1991, Brown formalized Workman Arts as an independent organization with an aim to integrate people who receive mental health services in the professional theatre community. And from there, Workman Arts’s activities expanded into other arts forms.
Today, Workman Arts is home to 425 member artists, from musicians to visual artists to filmmakers. Members get access to studio space, equipment and materials, as well as opportunities to present their work publicly.
Perhaps most importantly, though, is that member artists become part of a supportive, encouraging community. As noted by Workman’s executive director, Kelly Straughan, “A key determinant of mental health is to reduce social isolation. So, a place like Workman Arts becomes a big part of someone’s recovery and of maintaining their mental health.”
Did you know? 92% of Ontarians agree that exposure to arts and culture is important to individual well-being.
Source: Arts and Heritage Access and Availability Survey 2016-2017, Environics Research Group, March 2017.
“When someone has had mental health or addiction challenges, those opportunities haven’t always been there for you”
At the centre of the organization are its training courses, which at Workman Arts, are a way of breaking down barriers. “In the past, there were very rigid definitions of what it meant to be a professional artist,” says Straughan. “You had to go to school, and study your craft, and have certain experiences in the professional world. But when someone has had mental health or addiction challenges, those opportunities haven’t always been there for you, and you haven’t been able to access them – even though you are dedicated to your practice.”
Training courses can serve as a stepping-stone towards launching a career, especially for participants who haven’t always been supported or encouraged in their artistic pursuits. They can also build confidence in a way that allows them to pay it forward.
As Straughan notes, “One of the things that we do here is to try to make sure that all our instructors identify as having lived experience. Many of them come up through our training programs – they start off attending classes and then they start teaching the classes and they do become leaders within the community.”
This kind of growth benefits the individual as much as it does the community. “Maybe at one point they wouldn’t have thought they would ever teach a class, or wouldn’t really define themselves as professional,” Straughan continues. “But over the years, they think to themselves, ‘Yeah, you know what? I have something to share.’ It’s nice when we see that transition happen.”
Making disability arts a priority
The Ontario Arts Council (OAC) has funded Workman Arts since 1993. And as Straughan relates, “OAC has been so very helpful, and one of our very best supporters. Without OAC I don’t know where we would be. It would certainly be a much smaller and less active organization.”
With support from OAC and other public funders, Workman Arts has been a leader in establishing disability arts as a recognized field. And since 2014, artists with disabilities (including those with physical, mental and learning conditions) have become one of OAC’s six priority groups. Now, OAC offers a suite of programs and accessibility supports for Deaf artists and artists with disabilities, all developed through consultations within these diverse communities.
“This is exactly why we’re here”
In addition to empowering artists, Workman Arts is committed to redefining society’s perceptions of mental health and addiction. “The public side of what we do is fighting stigma and discrimination,” says Straughan. The organization accomplishes this through outreach and events that are open to the broader community.
One example is Rendezvous with Madness, an annual event believed to be the world’s largest mental health festival. Another is Being Scene, a juried art exhibition featuring a mixture of established and emerging artists. Straughan particularly treasures a memory from last year’s event.
“We had an artist who was exhibiting for one of her first times. She was just thrilled about being involved and couldn’t believe her art was on the wall. The opening night, she ended up chatting with someone about her artwork, which is huge. A lot of our artists find that part a real challenge – that part where you stand and sell your art to someone or talk about your art. It can be very uncomfortable – some artists even avoid opening night because of that.
“This artist came, spoke about her work to someone and then that person purchased the art. This artist was over the moon. I’ve never seen her so excited, and she couldn’t believe her artwork sold.”
“To see those moments where they’ve accomplished so many things in one evening is so gratifying. You have these moments where you go, ‘This is why we do it – this is exactly why we’re here.’”
Can small towns have big stories? Absolutely! For almost three decades, 4th Line Theatre has celebrated the lives of rural Ontarians while bringing vital tourism dollars into the community.
The story of 4th Line Theatre begins in 1990, when playwright/actor/director Robert Winslow inherited his family’s 180-year-old farm in Millbrook, in the township of Cavan-Monaghan. Winslow cherished the property, but lacked the funds to set up a working farm. So, he came up with an unusual plan: as he explained in a 2011 interview with the Northumberland News, “In order to keep the farm, the idea I had was to start a theatre company.”
Winslow had already been working on a play set in 1800s-era Cavan-Monaghan, centred on historical conflicts between local Catholic and Protestant settlers. By turning the farm into a theatre venue, the play could not only be set locally, but staged locally – and this became 4th Line Theatre’s first production, Cavan Blazers.
“We had no idea if anybody would come,” recalls Kim Blackwell – then an assistant stage manager, and now the company’s managing artistic director. “We opened the first of what we thought were only going to be six performances.” But all six shows sold out, and 4th Line extended the run to six weeks. “From there,” says Blackwell, “We looked around and said, ‘I guess this is viable! We should think about telling other stories of this area.”
Capturing the hearts and minds of the local community
Three decades on, 4th Line Theatre continues to record and share the stories of generations of south-eastern Ontarians. As Blackwell notes, “Quite often, people will say to me, I can’t believe a little town like Millbrook has such a wealth of stories – I mean, we have 28 seasons worth of stories we’ve told. And I always say back to people: I think if you talk to anyone in a small town, you will find that every small town in this province has equally amazing people who have lived there and toiled there.”
What 4th Line realized early on was the importance of celebrating local people and lore. “As Canadians,” explains Blackwell, “We don’t celebrate our heroes the way some other countries do.”
Equally important is 4th Line’s recognition that their subjects are not merely characters, but cherished relatives and community members whose stories have often gone unheralded. “The art we do touches our audience in the most profound way,” says Blackwell. Quite often, there are people sitting in the audience and it’s their story, or their parents’ story, that we’re telling.
“It was our community-based nature that the Ontario Arts Council ‘got’”
4th Line’s focus on community stories is part of what makes their work unique – and part of why the Ontario Arts Council has supported its work from the beginning. “When other granting bodies struggled to understand our work, the Ontario Arts Council was a real cheerleader,” explains Blackwell. “Right from the beginning, it was our community-based nature that the Ontario Arts Council ‘got’ and supported. It’s a really big reason why we’re about to go into our 28th season.”
The story may be local, but the audiences don’t have to be
Of course, no theatre can make it to 28 seasons without an enthusiastic audience – and 4th Line’s legions of fans have transformed the community into a tourism destination. Every summer, upwards of 17,000 people visit the Millbrook-Cavan area, the vast majority coming – and then coming back again – for the 4th Line experience. “A lot of people from outside the region, after coming once, they become hooked, and make it a part of their summer ritual,” says Blackwell.
Did you know? Arts and culture tourists spend more and stay longer: the average Ontario arts/culture tourist spends twice as much per trip as a typical tourist ($667 per trip versus $374) and stays more than one night longer (4.4 nights in Ontario versus 3.1).
Source: Ontario Arts and Culture Tourism Profile, 2012
Tourism dollars extend well past the farm’s perimeter, and boost shopping, dining and hospitality. And it’s not just audience members who make an impact on the local economy – as Blackwell notes, “The community explodes in the summer [with] upwards of 100 actors, technicians, creators, volunteer actors.”
“An incredible thing right in their backyard”
Community members not only benefit economically from the show – often, they get to be part of the show. “[One] thing that’s unique about 4th Line is that we put professional actors on stage with community volunteers. And the community volunteers are not just extras – they have really substantial roles,” explains Blackwell. “We have volunteer actors who have been involved for decades every summer – it really does transform their lives.”
Even for locals who aren’t directly involved with 4th Line, the theatre is seen as a source of pride in the community. As Blackwell remarks, “I know that a lot of people, when they have visitors coming over the summer, they say, ‘We’ve gotta take you to 4th Line,’ this incredible thing right in their backyard.”
Why stable funding is essential
Funding from the Ontario Arts Council has been essential to 4th Line’s creative work and operations – which, in turn, generates ripple effects in Millbrook and beyond. Blackwell notes that multi-year operating funding has given 4th Line “a secure bedrock on which to grow,” adding, “Without the support of the Ontario Arts Council, I seriously doubt that the theatre would exist right now. And if it did, we would be limping along.”
“OAC operating funding has allowed us to have a stable organization that other companies look to. I know organizations that don’t have access to that level of funding, and who struggle with stability. What the OAC has given our organization, now into its third decade, is stability.”
Picture this: you’re a 17-year-old living in Timmins, a city of 40,000 in northeastern Ontario. You’ve just seen the latest Marvel movie at your local theatre, and you’re totally in awe of the cinematography and special effects. It would be so cool to learn how it all works, and even try your hand at making your own movie. But how would you ever be able to afford (or even access) the software and equipment that could make this dream a reality?
Enter the Near North Mobile Media Lab – an organization that helps media artists, filmmakers and students in northeastern Ontario access the tools they need to produce and present cutting edge, contemporary media arts.
Going mobile for media artists
The Near North Mobile Media Lab began in 2004 as an informal collective of North Bay media artists who shared equipment and collaborated on projects. Realizing that artists and filmmakers in northeastern Ontario often faced barriers in accessing tools and other resources, they decided to expand their reach and incorporate as a non-profit.
Near North built up an inventory of rental equipment (including cameras, computers with editing suites and sound equipment) and began offering events for its local membership. But to truly serve the northeast – a vast geographic region where communities are separated by large distances – they needed a creative solution.
Enter the “mobile” part of the “mobile media lab” – a travel trailer equipped with a suite of tools for artists in far-flung and remote locations. After nearly a decade of service, the trailer was replaced by a retrofitted motor home, where up to four artists can work at once. The mobile studio can house an entire film production, from shooting right through to editing – an impressive feat for one vehicle.
Near North began receiving operating funding from the Ontario Arts Council in 2008, in part because of the innovative ways they’ve found to serve northern Ontario’s needs. And as Holly Cunningham, the organization’s executive director, explains, “When the media lab was successful in getting operating funding from the Ontario Arts Council – that really was the jumping-off point for this organization to grow and have that stability.”
“They weren’t getting their foot in the door”
In 2013, Near North started doing consultations on how to increase media arts activity in northern Ontario. Throughout their visits, a common theme emerged: “One of the things we were hearing from all of the communities was that there wasn’t enough programming for young people, and they weren’t getting their foot in the door,” says Cunningham.
This feedback led to the creation of Digital Creator North – a program for youth ages 14 to 21 in six northern Ontario communities (Temiskaming Shores, Elliot Lake, Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, Kenora and Sioux Lookout) to explore digital media, filmmaking and sound design. “Our goal was basically to put tools in their hands, and have them making media art, in whatever way they [saw] fit,” says Cunningham.
There was no guarantee of success. “When we first started this project, we weren’t sure how many teenagers would be interested in our programs,” says Cunningham. “We weren’t sure whether they would even show up. But we’ve actually had over 2,000 teenagers show up at our spaces in the last three years! So that’s been pretty amazing.”
Just as amazing were the creations that started coming out of the program. “Some of the work that they’ve been doing has been mind-blowing,” affirms Cunningham. “A lot of these northern youth, who I think see themselves as digital media consumers, now become digital media creators. And they’re making these amazing short films, and they’re recording music, and I think it’s really about them finding identity.”
Connecting with northern Ontario’s film industry
Digital Creator North provides an important opportunity for northern Ontario youth to express themselves – but the opportunities don’t end there.
Since the introduction of the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation tax credit, the North Bay area has become home to a burgeoning film industry. As Cunningham notes, North Bay’s existing media arts sector helped make the area “an environment in which this kind of industry could flourish, [as] we had a talent pool to draw from, a media arts collective and an active film festival.”
As a result, Digital Creator North participants can use their newfound skills in a variety of ways – by becoming media artists, working in the film industry, or both. “We’ve seen 17-year-olds becoming media artists, and having their first show, and being hired by film companies in the summertime,” says Cunningham.
At the same time, Near North doesn’t take it for granted that these opportunities are opening up locally. As Cunningham explains, “One of our goals is, actually, youth retention, because young people are our next generation of creators. To have them be contributing to their own communities and working in their own communities is a very important thing.”
Did you know? The not-for-profit arts sector often serves as a training ground for artists who also apply their skills and experiences in the commercial sector. In this way, not-for-profit arts organizations form part of the R&D for the cultural sector, and help provide training and opportunities to build skills, craft and audience for the creative sector workforce.
The arts organizations funded annually by OAC play a key role in training this “crossover” workforce by providing work for 37,800 artists, and professional development and training for over 108,000 creative sector workers each year.
Source: Actual data for 2015-16 for 477 organizations from 2017-18 OAC operating grant applications/CADAC.
“If we hadn’t gotten that funding, the media lab would not have grown as it has”
Increasing access, bridging geographic divides, empowering youth – these are just a few of the ways that Near North’s work has a ripple effect across northern Ontario. And public funding, through OAC, is part of what makes it all possible.
“If we hadn’t gotten that operating funding from the Ontario Arts Council, the media lab would not have grown as it has – from the basement of the public art gallery to an eight-person staff, with ongoing programming,” says Cunningham. “You can really trace our success back to getting that first grant, which really allowed us to continue on as the organization we needed to be for our community.”
All photos courtesy of the Near North Mobile Media Lab.
For more than 55 years, the OAC has played a vital role in promoting and assisting the development of the arts for the enjoyment and benefit of Ontarians. In 2018-19, OAC invested $61.1 million in 228 communities across Ontario through 2,252 grants to individual artists and 1,424 grants to organizations.