On March 11, 2009, members of all ArtReach Toronto-funded projects were invited to participate in a Learning Circle event at the youth-run Whippersnapper Gallery. The purpose was to bring together all the projects funded by ArtReach Toronto to share stories, network and to discuss ways the program has supported benefited them as individuals, as well as their communities.
“ArtReach has been a fertilizer to grow my organization and my own personal skills.” -Coordinator, ArtReach Toronto Funded Project
David MacCoy of First Leadership Ltd worked alongside two coordinators of ArtReach funded projects, members of the Grant Review Team and the ArtReach program manager to design the agenda and the process for the 45 young attendees. Appreciative Inquiry, an engagement approach that aims to encourage imagination, innovation and flexibility, and build on existent positives was the approach used. Two ArtReach Toronto grantees, Helena Shimeles (Young Diplomats) and Mario Murray (Beatz to da Streetz), were trained in the application of Appreciative Inquiry by the evaluator and facilitated the event.
Shahina Sayani, Program Manager, kick-started the event by reviewing feedback from the 2007 Learning Circle event and updating participants on changes already implemented to improve the ArtReach Toronto program. For example, at the previous Learning Circle people expressed an appreciation for the youth arts information that ArtReach used to forward to artists throughout the week however, they requested that the information be compiled and sent out weekly. As a result, ArtReach developed a weekly mailer called “Post-it” – a collection of information about youth arts events, funding, workshops, job opportunities and much more. Currently, approximately 1000 young artists, youth arts organizations, youth groups, funders and various stakeholders subscribe to “Post-It”.
Participants reported that overall their ArtReach experience had been positive and supportive. Of those that completed a survey, over 90% reported increased confidence as artists, increased number of positive relationships, as well as increased engagement in community activities and connections to other artists. Similarly, over 90% reported that they received valuable advice and support from ArtReach staff and found the workshops to be helpful. A common concern that arose was finding solutions to lack of core funding to keep these organizations and initiatives afloat so these young leaders can continue to do the work they have started. Some grantees described ArtReach as a “bridge” that shortens the gap between them and arts councils as well as other funders.
When asked what they value most about ArtReach Toronto, the most common responses were capacity building and technical supports, dedication to young artists, provision of feedback on grants applications, working from the “inside-out” as a change agent, and feeling trusted. Participants cited that the biggest impacts of ArtReach on them were included being taken seriously, having the ability to make art for a living, as well as having access to resources and skill building opportunities (i.e. grant writing supports). The youth artists wished for more jobs and opportunities to connect them to jobs in the arts sector; increased security and sustainability; concrete connections to other funders; increased organizational development and having ArtReach as a permanent trailblazer in the funding community.
The event was a great success and ended on a high note with an inspiring discussion about the groups’ most exciting outcomes which included the ability to transform ideas to projects, personal growth, increased life skills, and witnessing real change in ArtReach funded program participants.
“Young people in our organization, who are part of the program now, as opposed to calling themselves marginalized, underprivileged and at-risk.. instead of identifying themselves with these labels, they are now calling themselves artists.” – Coordinator, ArtReach Toronto Funded Project