In 2013 Arts Network Ottawa (Arts Council) noticed a growing number of community engaged arts projects, in the United States, United Kingdom and in major Canadian cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, were offering artists the opportunity to further their craft as facilitators and bring the arts to underserved communities. While Ottawa had a few individual community engaged artists, there was no framework offering artists the funding, tools or connections to grow their artistic career through community arts engagement. Through consultations with local non-profits the Arts Council also learned that there was a desire to bring artists into the community to co-create through community arts engagement, however non-profits were not equipped to manage or fund them.
Realising there was a lack of infrastructure for Ottawa artists to build and grow their careers through community engaged arts practice and for non-profits to access funding, the Arts Council created Art Place, a pilot three year artist-in-residence program. Through this juried program, the Arts Council offered emerging and established community engaged artists an opportunity to work with diverse populations and further develop their art. Having secured funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Arts Council was able to offer these arts programs to local non-profits for free, and to help underserved communities gain access to meaningful and enriching arts experiences. At the end of each year, the Arts Council hosted public workshops and brought in experts to talk about their work developing community engaged arts projects. These gatherings offered Art Place participants an opportunity to learn more about community engaged arts, and invited other artists and community members at large the opportunity to learn about the benefits of community engaged arts programs.
Over the course of three years, the Arts Council connected 38 Ottawa-area artists with more than 20 non-profits. These 22 individual Art Place projects, more than 500 Ottawans were able to explore art forms which had previously been inaccessible to them. Through these paid positions, the artists provided engaging arts experiences to over 2000 people in the region.
The project was supposed to end in late February but we are still running it now and most young people want to continue. The cause and the involvement of the community in this project has truly been noticed and been encouraged all around me and in young people’s lives.
– Abel Maxwell, Art Place year two, worked with youth at the Centre Réveil International
What I can see in people’s eyes is that they need to have something positive in their neighbourhood. They are tired of being tagged as a dangerous area. Between events like this, I think people enjoy the idea of having something creative on the crescent.
– Marc Walter, year three, worked with residents in Ottawa’s Jasmine Crescent community
They love working on their projects and they usually bring each one home to finish or make another version of it. I never give my group homework but they simply like to keep working on their projects. These are new techniques and they want to keep exploring them. It is nice for me because it is like planting the seeds and seeing whether it will grow into something or not. I like when they come into the workshop with something new. I hope they will continue working on projects like this because I have seen that it is very good for their well-being.
– Bozica Radjenovic, Art Place year three, working with seniors at Club Casa de los Abuelos
The impact was also felt by the community organisations which saw their participants grow both artistically and personally through the projects. The value of creating these connections was also felt monetarily by the Arts Council which successfully managed to raise$70,500 in external funding to support the program.
We see music as a form of communication that really opens up the social part of the resident, the reminiscing part of the resident. It brings beautiful smiles, it decreases anxiety, it opens communications; it helps people to remember. This was the first time that we had a program that encouraged residents to use instruments and not just their voice, and not just a sing-along. One of my residents in particular, his name is Andy, and his wife was telling me that he had stuck his violin under his bed and it had been collecting dust for the last two years. Well with this program, Andy brought his violin down and started playing it again and his wife was telling me just this week that the smile on his face – he’s actually started participating in family events and playing for different events, he’s been coming to programs, he’s been playing it at birthday parties. His wife said it’s like he’s come to life.
– Christina O’Neil, Art Place year two, staff member at Unitarian House
This is the first time I have seen the residents write about their experiences. It was great to see them produce so many pages! They don’t often have the opportunity to write once they move into our residence. After the workshop, all seven participants were so enthusiastic about having the chance to express themselves in both writing and conversation.
– Andrea Chartrand, Art Place year three, activity coordinator at Centre d’accueil Champlain
The project had an incredible impact on the girls because for them it is a kind of play, but also more because they started to reveal issues they are having, like bullying. They trusted Naomi and it was a comfortable place for them.
– Noushin, year three, staff member at Immigrant Women’s Services Ottawa
This project had a huge positive impact on our space/community by offering a safe, relaxing opportunity for participants to explore their creative interests and enhance their artistic skill and knowledge.
– Melissa Weigel Chaplain, Art Place year two, staff member at The Salvation Army – Ottawa Booth Centre
The annual gatherings delivering community engaged arts training grew each year, providing training to 75 local artists. Whether artists participated in Art Place as an artist-in-residence, a conference facilitator or participant, each one gained a better understanding of the community engaged arts landscape in Ottawa. These gatherings also served as a gathering place for artists to discuss their work, share their experiences and make connections with future community engaged arts partners. These offered learning experiences for everyone involved, which many artists noted they had been lacking. In 2017, a two day symposium was held on community-engaged arts in Ottawa.
I found what I was looking for in the workshop: other artists, information, resources, and the right kind of environment for sharing. The opportunity to network both with community resource workers and other artists was the most valuable aspect of the symposium.
– 2017 Symposium attendee
In year one, Art Place projects ran for only eight weeks which the Arts Council soon realised was not a sufficient length of time for the artists and non-profit organisations to create meaningful engagement and art. Having secured external funding, which the Arts Council was able to do so increasingly each year, with year three projects running up to 20 weeks in length. The benefit of extending the timelines was evidenced in the outcomes of several Art Place projects which have continued to benefit communities and artists beyond their short 10-20 week timelines.
Following her year one Art Place residency, Sarah Conn continued exploring community partnerships through storytelling and interactive performances. Her Art Place project evolved into an immersive storytelling performance entitled Trophy, and has been presented in different forms at Ottawa-Gatineau’s Nuit Blanche (2015), SummerWorks in Toronto (2016) and at In the Soil Arts Festival in St. Catharine’s (2016). A fourth iteration was hosted as a city-wide performance in Ottawa as part of the Ottawa 2017 Arts, Culture and Heritage Investment Program and was hosted by Canada Scene in 2017.
Naomi Tessler’s year one theatre co-creation project with Immigrant Women’s Services Ottawa (IWSO) gave women the opportunity to share their experiences as new Canadians. Following its completion in 2015, the performance was remounted four times for audiences across the city. This project established a strong working relationship between Naomi and IWSO, and the two worked together in 2016 to create a new program which was awarded funding by the Community Foundations of Canada and was part year three in Art Place.
Prior to working on her year one Art Place project, Christine Mockett had been seeking new ways to grow her fibre arts practice but did not have the resources available to do so. Through Art Place she became more equipped to offer community engaged arts workshops and built strong ties within in the non-profit community. Since her residency at the Amethyst Women’s Centre, Christine has continued to work with the organisation to provide new programming to its clients, and she has been successful in securing new community engaged arts projects with Somerset West Community Health Centre.
Founded on providing collaborative arts experiences, Art Place helped emerging community engaged artists become more established and provided established artists with paid opportunities to practice their art. The program challenged both the Arts Council, the artist and community partners to work together, and collectively this work has established a dynamic and quickly evolving community engaged arts community.
In establishing Art Place, the Arts Council aimed to grow Ottawa’s community engaged arts offerings, and it was able to do so by providing paid opportunities for artists, and in turn free art programming for non-profit organisations. As the program grew each year, the Arts Council consistently heard from artists that there that there is a lack of knowledge transfer happening within community engaged arts practice. To continue the growth of community engaged arts practice, the Arts Council must seek out new ways to support knowledge transfer between emerging and established artists, and continue to provide spaces where artists can discuss their experiences and successes with one another. Key to this the Arts Council must also find ways to continue fostering connections between artists and the staff of community development and social service organizations.
Over the las three years, the Arts Council realised that longer residencies are required for artists to develop and have lasting impact within the non-profit community. Should the Arts Council wish to further foster the community engaged arts in Ottawa funding for longer term projects needs to be established.
While community engaged arts have grown significantly in the Ottawa region, there is still a need for arts service organisations to help foster community building. Over the course of three years, the Arts Council has seen Ottawa artists and residents learn more about art, themselves and their community through community engaged art and must continue working as a connector to support community arts engagement in the city.
Members of Naomi Tessler’s group act out an excerpt from their play at the 2014-15 Art Place closing event.
Youth helping to add elements to one of Art Place 2016-17 land artist Marc Walter’s sculptures located at Jasmine Crescent Park.
Allison O’Connor of the City of Ottawa, Community Arts for Social Engagement (CASE), shares best practices about community arts engagement with Art Place 2017 Symposium participants.
Arts Network Ottawa sincerely thanks all the artists, non-profit host partners and the following donors and funders who make this program a reality: Ontario Trillium Foundation, Community Foundation of Ottawa, Community Foundations of Canada’s Community Fund for Canada’s 150th 2016-2017, the Shenkman Family Foundation, the Danbe Foundation and the City of Ottawa Community Art and Social Engagement Program.