Adom Acheampong, East End Arts

Hello, my name is Adom Acheampong and I am the Community Coordinator for East End Arts, the local arts service organization for East Toronto. I’d like to start by thanking you for inviting community feedback today and for council’s past support of arts and culture funding. We are respectfully asking that this budget reaffirm the City's longstanding $25 per capita arts funding target, and include the final $2 million for the arts in the 2018 budget.

This funding is important as it allows East End Arts to continue supporting the City of Toronto’s work in priority neighbourhoods by providing inclusive programming for artists of all ages, including children and youth.

East End Arts is the youngest “LASO”, founded in 2013, following City Council’s commitment to increase arts funding.  Investments to date have already shown huge results as seen in the recent Nordicity report presented at Economic Development Committee last November.   With city support East End Arts has had great success reaching out to communities outside the core and into neighbourhood improvement areas.

But I’d really like to talk to you today about a specific East End Arts program, which highlights the high-impact of long term arts programming in the lives youth within our community.  SELF is a program developed by East End Arts, with arts facilitator Zahara Agjee. SELF gives young people the time to develop their skills and work collaboratively on artwork informed by their personal identities and lived experiences.

SELF, targeting youth from ages 14-29, ran for over 6 weeks at Access Point on Danforth (a United Way facility), and offered a fun and safe environment for youth to use visual art as a means to explore their identities and tell their personal stories.

Over the 6 weeks, 8 participants from a variety of backgrounds worked closely with Zahra to produce their respective pieces of artwork. Some of the participants were experienced artists. Some had worked with one medium but not another. Through a series of in-depth, hands-on exercises and discussions, participants not only learned new skills, but shared and traded knowledge and expertise between themselves – all with the expert guidance of a professional artist.

One of the group pieces created was a series of self-portraits, which participants covered with labels they – and others – have placed on them at one point in time, including words such as emotional, independent, white-washed, impure, and uplifting. This piece was incredibly impactful to both the youth and visitors to Access Point on Danforth.

One of the important features of the program is its accessibility and openness. Not only is Access Point on Danforth fully accessible, but all workshops were completely free for participants, with lunches and TTC travel costs covered by East End Arts. One SELF participant, Issac Wong, identifies as an autistic youth artist, and has limited mobility and communication skills. Thanks to the design of the program and the creation of a space that was open, safe, and welcoming, Issac was able to participate fully with his peers. With the assistance of a professional artist and his caregiver, Cathy, Issac was able to use visual art as a means of not only learning more about himself as an individual, but to express himself through his art. To quote Cathy, SELF was “a very safe and supportive environment for young people”.

After spending nearly 250 hours together, all of the participants have expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work with fellow artists from different cultures, while learning new art techniques. They have made lifelong bonds, learned new skills and had a truly transformational experience. Many have gone on to new artistic projects, including expressing interest in showing their artwork in other areas of the city, and even across GTA, including at the Eden Arts Festival in Guelph – where Issac and the collective of non-verbal communicators, Bridges over Barriers Communication Group, were invited to show their artwork.

These are the kinds of programs and projects that the increased funding to Arts and Culture makes possible. It allows East End Arts and the other Local Arts Service Organizations to serve the diverse needs of our communities across Toronto, making the arts truly accessible for all.

Thank you again for your time.