Learning Circle Event 2007

– View photos from the event here –

On November 14, 2007 all 34 funded-projects of ArtReach Toronto were invited to participate in an evaluation event held at the youth-run Whippersnapper Gallery. The purpose of the event was to gather more information on the experiences and needs of the funded groups, and provide them funding information, resources and an opportunity for networking.

Approximately 60 people attended the event, and most were young artists and participants of ArtReach funded-projects. The event began with “funder speed dating” and also involved small group work and larger discussions facilitated by a youth from an ArtReach funded-project. Performances by 3 funded-projects were held in the break and at the end of the day. A networking dinner ended off the session.

The first activity was a practice in networking and forming relationships with the Arts and Youth funding community. “Funder stations” were set up with groups of approximately 3-4 youth at each station. Groups moved to each station where the funders had four minutes to describe their programs, the types of projects they fund, and answer quick questions. This activity gave ArtReach funded projects a chance to meet face to face with other funding bodies and start a dialogue on how their ideas and projects could be supported further. The following funding organizations were present: Youth Challenge Fund, Toronto Enterprise Fund, Laidlaw Foundation, Toronto Culture, Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

The whole group participated in a discussion on their experience with ArtReach Toronto. A learning circle participant and youth leader from an ArtReach-funded project facilitated a discussion with the whole group to explore and document people’s wishes for ArtReach, their experience with the applications process, their contact with ArtReach and their thoughts on the workshop series.

Wishes for ArtReach included that it be “self sufficient” and hold a place at major decision making tables. Groups asked that the workshop series be documented and made available on-line. The group was also interested in more events such as the 2007 ArtReach Toronto Pitch Contest, supported by Toronto Culture, and held at the Ignite Youth Arts Forum on June 12, 2007, as well as a showcase in order to reconnect with all the groups present in a setting that celebrated the diversity of art forms they practice.

Participants expressed that their contact with ArtReach was personal, open, respectful and authentic. “It’s what it should be like” said one participant, “that support had a huge impact on us because it was genuine and tailored for my needs”.

Groups also said that they found the workshop series useful in that it provided information on other kinds of grants, provided printed material and linked them to people working in the youth arts sector with real relevant experience, people who understood the challenges and needs because they had been through the process themselves.

The next activity explored the experiences of artists and leaders in the projects that they ran. In small participant-led groups of ArtReach-funded project staff, artists and program participants, everyone wrote down their top high points, the impact they felt their projects had, what they valued the most about them and their wishes for their projects in the future. Each point was posted on the wall and all participants were asked to place a sticker beside the 3 points that were of the highest importance to them.

“I loved that discussion” said one participant. “So many people in the room have similar amazing experiences with their projects and really believe in what they were doing. We also faced many of the same struggles trying to make our ideas happen. It’s really validating being part of this community and seeing everyone here together. Straight up, ArtReach is an institution that supports the people and ideas that it says it supports”.

So what did people say about their experiences? High points with the most stickers ranged from “performing internationally”, “getting a review in NOW magazine” and “getting the grant” to “learning from and teaching youth”, “getting the chance to be a leader” and “transforming a life”. Groups also saw their impact on their neighborhoods by noting that they had actively encouraged youth entrepreneurship, created a space for expression and really mobilized their community.

The things that were marked as the highest in value included “positivity”, “breakthroughs”, “seeing self sufficient youth in the work force actually doing what they want”, “building relationships and developing leadership’, “seeing the youth’s artistic vision physically manifest” and of course, “the youth in our programs”.

What do ArtReach funded groups wish for? It all has to do with the ability to keep growing, creating and moving forwards. People expressed the importance of the longevity of their projects and having access to space. Groups want to be connected with active listeners from policy and funding community, and the opportunity to be at the decision making table. Why? More security would mean a chance to be self reliant and have time to do what we do best: ART!