Q&A with Lakeshore Arts

Lakeshore Arts is making a difference in the South Etobicoke community and has been for 25 years. By engaging all peoples using multidisciplinary art forms, they desire to enrich lives and strengthen the community. As a registered charitable not-for-profit community arts organization, Lakeshore Arts strength is in the collaboration and partnerships they’ve developed over the years which provide the opportunity to discover new ideas, develop shared outcomes and realize mutual benefits. With the belief that everyone has the right to explore their artistic expression, the doors at Lakeshore Arts are always open, and they invite you to walk through them.

What is Lakeshore Arts mission?
Lakeshore Arts is a registered charitable not-forprofit community arts organization dedicated to engaging all peoples using multidisciplinary art forms as a way of enriching lives and strengthening Toronto’s communities.

Our vision is for creativity and collaboration to drive cultural, social and artistic growth and help build inclusive, healthy communities. That feels like a tall order but it is something we are committed to striving for.

What programs do you offer?
It is important that our programming is accessible, inclusive and low-cost or free. Much of our programming is focused on children and youth; after- school, in-school, and summer camps providing them with opportunities for skill building, employment and building connections with their own community. The roster of programs has included photography, spoken word, digital media and music production to name a few.

We have created a senior’s advisory group, the SAGES, who work alongside staff to develop and implement programming for their peers. We offer community-based events.
• Porch View Dances; a program that engages community volunteers to dance for the general public after having facilitated sessions with professional choreographers,
• Lakeshorts; a film festival that showcases both local, Canadian and international short films in May celebrating ten years in 2020,
• Rexfest, a spoken word youth festival that launched this past June in North Etobicoke

Last year, we shifted our storefront gallery to a more community integrated space renaming it the Community Project Space. It’s goal is to identify issues that affect residents in the community and use an artistic lens to explore them on a deeper level.

To date we have investigated the opioid crisis and housing challenges offering individuals from all walks of life to join in the dialogue, build community and share experiences.

We encourage you to visit our website lakeshorearts.ca to for details.

What role does Lakeshore Arts play in strengthening the community?
Accessible arts programming is an essential component of what we do. Last year, we served 2,702 children and youth, employed 118 artists, and delivered 67 projects. Those community- based initiatives engaged 4,556 participants and provided opportunities for 250 volunteers to contribute to their community.

Last June the Board of Directors approved a new strategic plan focused on Lakeshore Arts being a COLLABORATOR – CONNECTOR – CATALYST – COMMUNITY BUILDER. How has this plan impacted the community and how Lakeshore Arts operates?
A key part of the plan’s focus is to utilize a dynamic process that requires the organization to continually monitor the changing environment – collecting information, and adjusting or adapting the plans and actions to meet the changing conditions or emerging needs of the community. It is important that we build our programming around community needs through consultation – this is done through partnerships, leveraging our membership and relationships with other arts organizations and local artists. An example of this is illustrated in our Community Project Space where we collaborated with local organizations such as the Daily Bread Food Bank and LAMP Adult Programs.

We use the arts as a catalyst for community building; exploring themes identified by the community to unpack a complex issue that affects people on many different levels – we want to spark conversation and ignite action. This past year we have found that our attendance at events has risen by 5% and we have expanded our programming to reach seniors. We have also begun to work with intellectually disabled adults in partnership with Community Living Toronto. The shift in our strategic plan focuses on accessible programming for all peoples; including those who are often on the margins or who rarely get an opportunity to have a voice in their own communities.

Lakeshore Arts is a charitable not-for-profit community arts organization. Talk to us about the support and contributions you’ve received to continue to serve the community?
We receive support from all three levels of government to keep our doors open. These core funds provide us with the ability to work towards being sustainable and create a foundation from which we can grow. However our projects have to find funding through other sources this includes sponsorship, foundations and individual donations. Lakeshore Arts is fortunate to have a core group of individuals who value the benefits of having a community arts organization in their neighbourhood and provide us with monthly and annual donations.

Every fall we launch a giving campaign providing the opportunity for people who believe in our mission and values to support us and the work we do. We also host a multitude of fundraisers such as our Annual Pie Auction, which happens the Wednesday prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. This is a much anticipated event with featured guest pies and a competitive live auction. It is important that we continue to find ways to diversify our funding envelope and look to find new relationships to support the organization.

Lakeshore Arts has established some amazing partnerships over the years. What is the importance of these relationships?
By leveraging partnerships, the organization has been able to grow and deliver stronger programming through those alliances. We build new audiences, expand our outreach, impact individuals who we might not otherwise reach; by working with libraries, community health centres, social service agencies, and sister community arts organizations. These relationships allow us to work together to serve the greater good of the community.

Your organization has made an enormous impact on the community and abroad. What are you most proud of?
Shazaam! In Focus provides grade 8 students with a meaningful opportunity to examine their identity and the importance of self-reflection through spoken word poetry and digital photography at a pivotal point in their lives, before transitioning to high school. This program has evolved over a decade, engaging hundreds of students annually. We have also had the opportunity to partner with Ryerson University to develop a robust three year evaluation to fully understand the impact and benefit of community arts initiatives on young students. The initial outcomes include that 80% of the students unprompted, stated that the program has taught them how to better express their emotions and students felt that they performed 25% better in school by the end of the program. These are just a few key findings with a full report to be released early fall of this year.

Over the years, Lakeshore Arts has won several awards for your positive role in the community. What does it mean to be recognized for all your hard work and creativity?
Being recognized by your peers and by the community confirms that the work that you are doing is needed, relevant and impactful. Anyone who works at Lakeshore Arts does so, because they believe that the arts can play a key role in making a difference, in creating positive social change and is passionate about working in the arts sector. The acknowledgment helps us to maintain our high standards of program delivery, cements your sense of purpose and honestly, makes everyone feel pretty good.

What does the future hold for your organization?
A future focus of the organization is to continue to build its capacity through;
• Investing in a secondary space to accommodate oversubscribed programs and offer space to other community groups,
• Continuing to build strong and meaningful partnerships,
• Diversifying our funding streams to maintain our impact in the neighbourhoods we serve
• Finding new ways to share and learn with the community.

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