Council to revitalize Scarborough arts

Scarborough Arts Council is trying to get creative juices flowing into east Scarborough.

The council has now held two public panel discussion nights, titled The New Art of Suburbia, hoping to fuel ideas on how to both support existing work and foster new art through developing venues within the surrounding community.

West Hill Community Services introduces local youth to
diverse art forms through their initiative Project Random.
Courtesy of Janet Fitzsimmons

Executive Director Tim Whalley says the discussions, held at Centennial College’s Progress campus this December, were meant to stimulate people.

“It was in response to a growing interest in how to better support the arts in suburban and inner-suburban communities that are separate from the arts community and the arts infrastructure in the downtown core,” Whalley says.

The council hopes for new gallery space and music venues, therefore creating more opportunities for young artists in the area.

“It’s not a completely new discussion, but the point is to push the discussion forward and to get people who maybe hadn’t thought about it to think about it more,” Whalley says.

Major challenges in bringing art to Scarborough were brought to the forefront.

“The main ones are lack of funding, and lack of venues,” he says. “We need places for artists themselves to put on their exhibits and performances because currently where are they supposed to go to do that?

“I would say that things like distances are troublesome because traveling around different parts of Scarborough can be difficult, and the public transit could be a bit better.”

Whalley says during the first discussion on Dec. 1 people were literally coming up with ideas on the spot during the open forum portion of the evening, with one example being a local arts centre or hub for Scarborough.

“We want to build bridges across Scarborough by using the arts.”

Ultimately, Whalley and the council are interested in finding and supporting informal art already being created, as opposed to just introducing new things.

One such initiative, happening in east Scarborough, is called Project Random — started by West Hill Community Services almost two years ago that aims to bring the arts to youth aged 14 to 19, predominantly in the Kingston-Galloway priority neighbourhood.

Janet Fitzsimmons, a health promoter for West Hill Community Services who works primarily with youth, says the project is exposing young people to an array of art forms.

“A lot of the kids I work with in the art program get the sense that art doesn’t happen as much out here [east Scarborough], or that art isn’t as accessible for them,” Fitzsimmons says.

“We have brought in community artists, professional artists, in different genres to teach art skills to kids.”

Some of the forms of art being introduced include stilt dancing, mask-making, puppetry, spoken word, and African drumming.

Fitzsimmons says they’ve also created a mosaic art piece in one of the Toronto housing buildings, which was turned into a permanent installation in one of its common areas.

The plan is for the project, which also includes neighborhood beautification through art, to change the youth’s perspectives not only about art, but also about themselves.

“Number one just through giving them a sense of self-expression and a confidence in their own voice and their own experience,” Fitzsimmons says.

Fitzsimmons wants the project to encourage east Scarborough youth to realize art not only can be an exciting hobby, but also an achievable future career.

“One of the things the project is designed to do is to provide mentorship for youth who are interested in careers in the arts, so that they’ll actually start thinking of the arts as a viable career option.

“We are actually bringing artists in who are very much making a living from it, and can share their skills and experiences with youth who are interested.”