TD Community Arts Award spotlights organizations creating access to the arts

Sponsored feature: Toronto Arts Foundation

In a city as unique as Toronto, it feels almost impossible to appreciate what every community has to offer. Luckily, Toronto Arts Foundation is offering an opportunity to shine a spotlight on three organizations using art as a catalyst for social change and self-empowerment.  

Established in 2013, the TD Community Arts Award celebrates an individual artist or organization that has made a significant contribution in Toronto by working collaboratively with culturally diverse communities and creating access to arts and culture.

“The TD Community Arts Award is a celebration of the power of the arts to unite people and communities,” said Claire Hopkinson, director and CEO of Toronto Arts Foundation. “The transformative work that all three finalists are doing in their communities has a ripple effect on the rest of the city, showing us that through targeted and impactful arts engagement, neighbourhoods and the city at large are made better.”

The recipient of the award will be announced during Neighbourhood Arts Network’s Emergence Symposium Week on November 23 at the closing reception. This year’s finalists include a wide range of organizations helping artists around the city thrive.

Art Starts


With its head office at Yorkdale Mall, Art Starts isn’t your average arts organization. They work in five underserved Toronto neighbourhoods, bringing together professional artists  ̶  including dancers, musicians, visual artists, actors and playwrights ̶ with residents of all ages. Their goal is to create accessible and dynamic art projects that reflect the identities and aspirations of each community.

“What we see a lot is vulnerable people who have been systematically marginalized starting to see themselves as talented people who matter people are creating and contributing to making the world a better place,” says Sari Zon, head of development for Art Starts. “That’s where the real change happens.”

From girls mentorship programs to teen music production programs to symposiums for newcomer artists, Art Starts puts residents in the driver’s seat through encouraging and valuing participants take ownership of their own stories. This means using art to bring communities together.

“I think the most valuable thing the arts are doing in communities is empowering and helping to equip marginalized youth to demand a seat at the table, to develop a sense of agency so they can affect change for themselves,” says Zon.

Future plans for the organization include creating a digital tool kit with and for the community arts sector in order to better address hysical barriers of accessing art. They also plan on deepening their relationships, including reconciliation techniques with Indigenous communities, building off their recent practice of  opening sessions with an Indigenous elder or storyteller. But all of these endeavours require access to the appropriate resources.

“Awards like this really give us the opportunity to share our work on a greater scale with the larger community.”

Jumblies Theatre


Jumblies Theatre expands where art happens, who gets to be part of it, what form it takes and which stories it tells. They work in communities to empower citizens to speak up and take action on issues that directly affect them.

“I think art can be a force for social change, but through engaging with it wholeheartedly,” says Ruth Howard, founder of Jumblies Theatre. “Art is an essential part of life, both for extraordinary and everyday expressions: celebrations, mourning, resistance and activism.”

An example of these powerful changes took place during this year’s Talking Treaties at Historic Fort York. The series artfully shared local Indigenous history and awareness, bridging the gaps between history, art and citizens.

Sam Egan, associate artistic director, says that it can often be easier to engage people in difficult subjects when they’re in the same space as the subject matter.

“Having a play about, say, racial tensions, creates a context for the audience where it’s in the form and not the explicit theme, and see what arises out of this.” Howard believes this rings particularly true for community arts. “It can be gentler and deeper.”

Being nominated for the TD Community Arts Award provides nominees an opportunity to continue their work in underserved communities, such as continuing working with organizations who engage with deaf and disabled artists and communities

“It’s exciting to see community arts recognized in general. There have been times in the past where community art has been regarded as not having as much artistic merit. This centres community art as something intrinsically valuable.”



Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, UrbanArts is committed to the goal of building inclusive, engaged communities by enriching people’s’ lives through the arts, culture and heritage. Their programs, services and resources are delivered within the former City of York boundaries, with a focus on York-South Weston, and expanding to to other neighbourhoods.

“I think the arts are not a tool but catalyst in the way we approach the work we do,” says Marlene McKintosh, executive director of UrbanArts. “Sometimes we do art for the sake of art, because it’s fun and encourages creativity. But there are those projects we do because they provide meaning and value and insight into how we can make big changes in the world.”

For UrbanArts, their programs tap into such import by tackling culinary arts, fashion, dance and music. McKintosh says that their dance programs perfectly blend fun and function: dance is a tool of health and wellness, but it also engages participants to interact with art in a different way.

UrbanArts has traditionally been focused on serving youth communities, but they’re working towards connecting everyone including working on building programs for seniors, adults and inter-generational communities.

And showing that art is constantly in motion, they’re working on a project with Metro Links at the new Mount Dennis Go Station, depicting a video project made by some of their youth members that will animate the station.

While UrbanArts focuses on local issues, McKintosh says that their work is intrinsically connected to what’s happening around the world. “It’s about using the arts as a way to address social issues, as a way to wade through the murky waters of our current political climate.”

The change to reach wider audiences by being nominated for the award presents an opportunity for growth and galvanization.

“For us, having that recognition on a broader scale really has been empowering.”

To learn more about the TD Community Arts Award and the 2018 finalists, visit the Neighbourhood Arts Network website.

Neighbourhood Arts Network is an initiative of Toronto Arts Foundation, a charitable organization that sparks creative connections, spotlights artistic excellence, and supports vibrant cultural growth throughout our diverse city, through private sector investment.

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