It was opening night for the Women’s Art Afternoon annual art show. Metro Hall’s rotunda walls were adorned with paintings, ranging from wild abstracts, to deeply personal self-portraits, to incredibly detailed landscapes.
Everyone was smiling, laughing, and snacking on mini samosas. It seemed like any other opening night, but for those who knew that this was to be the last show after 17 years, it was marked by a heavy sadness.
They had lost the $20,000 grant used to run their art program, which was based in the Adelaide Resource Centre for Women and catered to vulnerable women experiencing poverty, addiction, mental health issues or loneliness.
Josie Ricciardi began this program and has called her experience “amazing.”
“During the 17 years, I’ve almost watched miracles,” said Ricciardi. “For some it meant coming in from the cold, having a cup of coffee with their friends, and for some finding a place to be true to themselves.
The program is different from others in the City, because it features a formal 15-minute art lesson at the beginning of every class, taught by artist Corrie Burrows. The women learn to use a variety of mediums, ranging from basic #2 pencil shading to dramatic watercolours and acrylics.
“This was my first time teaching in this environment,” said Burrows. “I’ve really seen the sense of community, and how much friendship, and having a place to go to on a weekly basis helps their mood and mental health.”
The women had a lot to say on the matter, writing letters to City Hall and openly speaking to those who would listen. Hear from the women below.
“It would be a sad story if the program should [end because of] the City,” said Jackie, a woman who consistently attended the Art Afternoon. “There’s a lot of women who want to make it back into society but there’s a lot of things that stop them.”
This was two weeks ago.
Just before the art show took place, the Toronto Star reported on the Women’s Art Afternoon. It was headlined “Art program for women in need comes to an end after ‘we built a family.’”
Angry readers were reaching out to the Star and to city counsellors like Pam McConnell and Paula Fletcher. In a letter to the editor one reader wrote, “Surely the city can find $20,000.”
After the public reacted, the City decided to reinstate stable funding.
“The City is working with all of the partners on this well respected program…We want it to continue without disruption and will make sure the approximately $22,000 is available,” said Alice Broughton, manager of community initiatives in the Shelter, Support and Housing department.
However, what readers did not know was that the City believed they had already funded the program.
A representative for the City said they approved the Fred Victor Centre, which funnelled money from the City to the Women’s Art Afternoon, for $1.5 million annually to run day programming and the 24 hour drop-in at the Adelaide Resource Centre for women.
However, the Fred Victor Centre believed this funding was exclusively for the 24-hour drop in and did not have excess funding to support the art program.
This miscommunication was luckily resolved in time for the city to reinstate funding before the program’s cutoff date in late December. Without this resolution, the women would have lost a program held close to their hearts.
“I love it here. It’s fantastic,” said Janice, a woman who has attended the art program for 17 years. “If they cut it, I won’t have anywhere to go, I might even get depressed.”
The Women’s Art Afternoon is one of many community art programs in the City.
And while the Women’s Art Afternoon has received the funding they desperately needed, not all art programs in Toronto are so lucky. Many operate on a year-by-year basis, which Ricciardi calls “crazy.”
“If we did year-by-year fundraising, I wouldn’t have any time to devote to the program,” said Ricciardi.
ArtHeart is a community art program based in the Daniel Spectrum Cultural Centre in Regent Park. They are running on a year-by-year basis and do not receive consistent funding from the City.
See ArtHeart’s artwork below.
Unlike the Women’s Art Afternoon, they cater to men and women, running separate programs for seniors, adults, and children. Many of the program users are adults or children experiencing poverty, loneliness, or life with a disability.
They also run a ‘No Starving Artist’ program, meaning all adult art sessions come with a free hot meal made by Studio Manager Tim Svirklys. Children are provided juice and snacks.
“Even though we deal with a lot of vulnerable adults, we don’t qualify for health funding,” said Executive Director Judy Fournier. “It’s like art therapy, we just don’t call it therapy.
ArtHeart relies heavily on large donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals. They have also begun renting their space out for birthday parties.
“You need to constantly fundraise. I do it all. I put in 16 and a half hours yesterday,” said Fournier. “It is hard, but [worth it when] you realize you’ve made a difference in someone’s life.”
City Hall does provide arts and culture grant funding, though it is not prioritized for vulnerable people as that is under discretion of the Shelter, Housing and Support department.
Grant funding largely goes to Local Arts Service Organizations, known as LASOs. They work with Cultural Services at City Hall, providing six art hubs in Toronto, one in each area of the city.
In 2015 LASO total funding came to $1.3 million.
The root of the problem, Fournier said, is there is simply not enough money to go around.
“We’re all in the same boat,” said Fournier. “there are more non-profits that are all vying for the same money. Every year, funding is getting harder and harder for everybody.”