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Arts Lab

The Creative Capital Gains Action Plan for Toronto (adopted by City Council, May 2011) recommends establishing "regular quarterly meetings with youth arts organizations, and City of Toronto divisions and agencies in each part of the city, East, West, North and South Toronto." The goal is to ensure access and opportunity for cultural participation to all citizens regardless of age, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or geography.

In 2012, four Arts Labs were held in various parts of the city to address "The Business of Youth Arts." This series of meetings is the first of its kind to bring together artists, arts organizations, community partners, and the public, to leverage each other's strength and resources, with an aim to build Toronto's youth arts business sector collaboratively.

On May 8, 2013, Arts Services staff gave an overview of the Report sharing insights gathered through the 2012 Arts Lab process and presented 4 draft recommendations based on those findings. Stakeholders gathered together to discuss those recommendations in four working groups. 

The recommendations:
1. Facilitate the development of a ladder of opportunity
2. Enhance collaboration and resource sharing
3. Support organizational capacity building
4. Leverage best practices to help youth build creative business (with a focus on social enterprise)
Based on the ideas of the working groups, five action areas emerge that will help enhance the youth arts business sector. 

These action areas are:
1. Develop and facilitate a ladder of opportunity for youth in their career development as the move through one program to the next.
2. Build and develop employment and mentorship opportunities in the arts for youth.
3. Build and develop shared administrative services to youth-led organizations/organizations serving youth to enhance organizational effectiveness and sustainability.
4. Enhance existing portals/platforms/networks to enhance information and resource- sharing.
5. Develop a road map to guide youth who is interested in starting a social enterprise.

In 2013 and 2014, community partners continued to fine-tune the recommendations and strategically planned on tangible ways to transform the sector. Through the process an Advisory Committee evolved that comprises the following community arts organizations:
Arts for Children and Youth, ArtReach Toronto, AVNU, East End Arts, Grassroots Youth Collaborative, Lakeshore Arts, Manifesto Community Projects, North York Arts, SKETCH, The Beat Academy, and WorkInCulture.

Arts Lab Session, November 2014 (Photos by: Fonna Seidu)

In early 2015, a strategic decision was made by the Arts Lab Advisory Committee to launch a pilot, supporting a cohort of youth artists/creative entrepreneurs, who are nearing a 'jumping off' point in their career as they ascend the ‘ladder of opportunity’. Guided by the Oversight Stewardship Committee (OSC), the pilot was implemented with the following objectives and outcomes.

Photo Credit: Fonna Seidu
Photo depicts the pilot process


  1. To investigate the interactions and experiences of participants as they work with dedicated mentors and future options counsellors (FOCs) to further ascend the ‘ladder of opportunity’/make further progressions in their artistic career;
  2. To examine the impact of these relationships on the participants’ experience and growth within the youth arts/arts business sector, in order to inform the development of resources and tangible methodologies that will enhance youth access to opportunities in the arts and culture sector; and
  3. To gather information to inform the building of a directory of paid and other opportunities for youth in Toronto’s arts and culture sector. 

Expected outcomes:

  1. Advancement in the participating artists' careers;
  2. Insight into how the cohort of artists make career progressions as they followed a guided path supported by their mentors and FOCs by analyzing their logged trajectories, timelines and experiences through this pilot; and
  3. Insight into how best to build a directory of paid and other opportunities for youth in Toronto's arts and culture sector.

Through this pilot, each artist was paired with a future options counsellor (FOC) who worked with the participant as a career counsellor, to make sure that known, relevant opportunities, information, etc., were shared with the participant. Each participant was also partnered with a mentor, an artist/arts business entrepreneur of the same discipline or a field related to the participant, who worked closely with the participant, to provide creative and professional support and guidance. 

Guided by a strategically designed survey, the interactions amongst the FOCs, mentors, artists and the Advisory Committee were logged monthly by all participants. Working closely with the Oversight Stewardship Core (OSC), the Arts Lab Coordinator compiled and analyzed the logs. A monthly summary of these logs was then submitted to the OSC, a task group derived from the Arts Lab Advisory Committee members who oversaw the process to ensure the successful and timely implementation of the Arts Lab pilot. 

By studying the trajectories, timelines and experiences of participants of this cohort, and comparing the participants' pre- and post-pilot experiences, this Arts Lab pilot aimed at helping remove some barriers underserved youth continued to face in Toronto, and providing the support that these artists needed to better ascend 'the ladder of opportunity', as they sought to grow their creative careers. 

At the conclusion of the Arts Lab pilot in March of 2016, a report on the Arts Lab Pilot was prepared by the Oversight Stewardship Core (0SC), with the collective input from all pilot participants. This report is now being shared with the broader Arts Lab community, including those who participated in the initial Arts Lab meetings from 2012-2015.

For the full report, please email Margaret Chan at

The Advisory Committee

  1. Margaret Chan, City of Toronto, Arts Services  
  2. Phyllis Novak: SKETCH
  3. Diane Davy: WorkInCulture
  4. Julie Frost: VIBE Arts
  5. Dwayne Dixon/Judi Lopez/Daniel Tal: Manifesto
  6. Omer Ismael: AVNU
  7. Amy Hosotsuji: Grassroots Youth Collaborative
  8. Laura Copeland/Melissa Foster: North York Arts
  9. Fonna Seidu: AVNU
  10. Tonika Morgan: The Beat Academy
  11. Michelle Weekes/Kim Dayman: Lakeshore Arts
  12. Cindy Rozeboom: East End Arts 
  13. Kate Fraser/Paulina O'Kieffe: ArtReach
  14. Rebecca Harrison: Coalition Music

**The first five members constituted the Oversight Stewardship Core (OSC)
Rebecca Harrison was contracted as the Arts Lab Coordinator

The participants were:

Artists/Nominating Organization

Future Options Counsellors (FOCs)


Andrenne Finnikin (VIBE Arts)

Balu Kanagalingam (VIBE Arts)

Julie Frost (VIBE Arts)

Nina Escalante (VIBE Arts) Balu Kanagalingam (VIBE Arts) Myra Leibu (VIBE Arts)
Oddane Taylor (SKETCH) Michael O'Connell (SKETCH) Kevin O'Leary (SKETCH)
Camille Gordon (Grassroots Collaborative/GYC) Amy Hosotsuji (GYC, later Hands Poppe, Remix) Hans Poppe Youth (Remix)
Joel Zoel (AVNU) Del Cowie (Manifesto) Naty Tremblay (SKETCH)

Overall impact of the pilot: Arts Lab has made a great impact on each artist’s creative/arts practice, entrepreneurial/business practice, career growth, the growth of their networks, and their ability to navigate opportunities in Toronto's arts and culture sector. 

During the pilot, Arts Lab artists were exposed to numerous opportunities, 97 of which helped them ascend the 'ladder of opportunity'. These opportunities included paid performances and work opportunities, exhibitions, workshops, networking events, specialized training opportunities, conferences and symposiums, access to professional environments and consultation, and technical training, to name a few. 

The artists were exposed to information and counsel in a wide variety of subject areas including: branding, funding and sustainability, finance and budgeting, product development, technical skills, team building, HR and diplomacy, administrative planning, grant writing, time management, self-care, establishing professional fees, event planning, career/education planning, interview skills, understanding and utilizing business skills, activity/accomplishment mapping, social media, portfolio development and curriculum development, and more. They were also exposed to a variety of communities through Arts Lab, including networks of: community arts representatives, artist educators, music industry professionals, literary and publishing industry professionals, gallery curators and owners, for example.

Some highlights from Arts Lab artists include:

  • Putting on a first solo show at a gallery
  • Delivering a first workshop
  • Acceptance into the Start Company Program
  • Securing Laidlaw, ArtReach and FACTOR grants
  • Creation of a new saleable product
  • Employing an intern through the Humber Student Placement program

Next steps

Based on the findings of the first phase of the pilot, the OSC has made the following strategic decisions:

  1. Implement Arts Lab pilot phase two (July 2016-May 2017) to collect more information related to future (cross)-sectoral collaborations and the development of a directory of opportunities for youth seeking a creative career in Toronto's arts and culture sector;
  2. Arts Lab artists to identify a focus and develop a plan to achieve set goals for the year ahead;
  3. Arts Lab phase two pilot welcomes: the return of the five artists, the OSC, three FOCs and the Arts Lab Coordinator; two new FOCs, Sandra Brewster and Anique Jordan; the return of and/or the joining of new mentors to be co-identified by the artists and their FOCs based on their respective focuses and goals set for this phase;
  4. Fine-tune the process by solidifying the unique roles of the FOCs;
  5. Introduce a structured approach to the quarterly meetings of the artists, FOCs and the OSC; and
  6. Develop strategies to broaden the Arts Lab process to include more participating organizations and the artists they work with.

The overall objective is that the learnings from these two phases of the Arts Lab pilot will result in a sustainable model that can help underserved youth ascend the 'ladder of opportunity' through a facilitated path assisted with the necessary resources for them to make informed progress in their pursuit of an artistic/creative entrepreneurial career in the arts and culture sector in Toronto.

Stay tuned for the final report in summer 2017…