A Brief Guide to Toronto's Art Scene

picture of a Centennial College student at an art gallery with a camera

If you ask five different people what art means to them, you will get five different answers. For some, it is art galleries and events such as Art Basel while for others it’s taking in live theatre or ballet. But no matter how you classify art, it plays more of a role in shaping our lives than you may think. For example, a 2006 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum study on art education demonstrated a link between arts education and improved literacy skills. In a pilot program called Learning Through Art, artists were sent into schools to help kids create their own masterpieces. Kids who took part in the program performed better on six different categories of literacy and critical thinking skills than those who did not.

Students enrolled in Centennial College’s Arts Education and Community Engagement program are learning how to design and deliver arts educational programming that is pedagogically sound and meets the needs of diverse communities. Graduates are equipped to manage a professional career in arts and learning, and to incorporate community-engaged arts work into their existing creative practice.

You may find these grads working in the various arts initiatives around Toronto. Here is a look at some of the coolest spaces and initiatives on the Toronto arts scene that go well beyond the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Art Toronto: For the past 19 years, this art fair, which takes place in the fall, has showcased international contemporary and modern art. What’s cool about it? It provides attendees access to the Canadian art market in the heart of downtown at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Not only do people get to check out artwork from leading Canadian and global galleries and curated projects, but Art Toronto also features a series of lectures and panel discussions from prominent art world figures as well as cultural offerings throughout the city.

Vibe Arts: This children and youth focused initiative is both an organization as well as a festival. The organization was launched in 1995 to provide kids and youth in under-resourced communities with high quality community and school-based arts education. The festival, meanwhile, is an extension of the organization and showcases the work created by youth who participated in Vibe Arts programs. The three-day festival is youth led and when it takes place this June, it will focus on the theme of infinity and the idea that art never dies. 

Toronto Arts Council: This funding body for artists and arts organizations has a 44-year history. It plays a significant role in the city’s cultural industries, which have a positive impact on community by engaging people of various populations. It has funded everyone from emerging artists to well known institutions to facilitate exhibitions, performances, readings and workshops — in which more than 9.5 million people partake annually. The non-profit organization, under contract by the City of Toronto, has 29 members who volunteer 10,000 hours annually and 54 committee members whose grant advice it draws on for theatre, dance, visual arts/film and video, music, literature and community arts.

Native Earth Performing Arts Inc.: Did you know that Canada’s oldest professional Indigenous theatre company is based in Toronto? Founded in 1982, it develops, produces and presents professional artistic expressions of the Indigenous experience in Canada. In 2012, Native Earth Performing Arts found a new administrative home at the Daniels Spectrum, an arts and cultural centre in Toronto’s revitalized Regent Park. At Daniels Spectrums, it also launched Aki Studio — a 120-seat creation and performance black box space.

By Izabela Szydlo

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