Art Starts

Summary of organization/program

Art Starts is an award-winning charitable, not-for-profit organization that uses the arts as a vehicle to encourage social change in Torontoʼs underserved neighbourhoods. We bring professional artists and communities together to work in and across all artistic disciplines. We understand that the arts are a medium for engaging residents, creating a shared sense of identity, identifying challenges and collectively working to overcome them. Founded in 1992, the organization has pioneered community-engaged arts practices in Ontario.

Art Starts combines the best practices of hands-on community consultation with a collaborative art-making approach and sound organizational and administrative support. We:

  • Bring together professional artists with people from various Toronto neighbourhoods
  • Create projects in all artistic media, with all ages, with artists and participants from various ethnic backgrounds
  • Reflect the cultures of the neighbourhood and build bridges among them
  • Celebrate communities, foster collaboration, foster job-readiness and learning skills & respond to local needs
  • Build capacity, knowledge, skills and understanding
  • Produce art of high quality and integrity while identifying and nurturing artistic talent
  • Partner with local agencies, schools, police, libraries and social workers
  • Operate 5 neighbourhood sites whose programs are as distinct as the communities they serve

Art Starts has facilitated myriad responsive, meaningful projects. We have made art in Laundromats and grocery stores.  We have helped youth to produce six original music CD’s, facilitated workshops in photo-lit, textile arts, hip hop, mural arts, drumming, break & step dancing. We have produced multilingual theatre productions, brought youth and seniors together for collaborative storytelling and transformed a creepy old house into a kingdom of awesome.

Contact information


 3401 Dufferin St. Lower Level, Toronto, ON M6A 2T9

 (416) 656-9994


Geographic region

  • Local


  • Youth

History/Background Information

In 1992 four socially conscious artists came together in Toronto’s Oakwood-Eglinton area.  They wanted to use art in their neighbourhood with their neighbours, as a way of positively addressing community tensions and celebrating the extraordinary diversity found on every block. They wanted a place to make art – a place where they could see and be seen, make art with everyone. An empty storefront seemed perfect.  But they needed money.  So the four artists, along with many supporters,  went to (city of York) city hall and did the unthinkable:

They Asked Politicians for Money to Make Art.





The politicians listened. They mulled over the idea. Carefully. In the end
they were convinced and Art Starts was born. The storefront was never
empty again. Residents, once very isolated from one another, began to 
come together. Through multilingual theatre projects, music and dance 
workshops and visual art pieces integrated into the streetscape, a culture 
of mutual understanding and respect began to develop. A shared sense 
of purpose was born. Art Starts was quickly becoming a catalyst and a 
proven model for arts-based community development in Toronto.

Since that time, Art Starts has grown in ways that continue to amaze even our founders. The past six years have seen Art Starts’ expand its purview, branching out to work sustainably with five under-resourced communities across the GTA. We continue to work with artists from all artistic disciplines and, like the communities we serve, our artists come from all walks of life.


We have become the artistic hub of activity in the most culturally, racially and linguistically diverse areas of Toronto. We remain a unique arts facility in our determination to reflect the different ethnicities of our communities.  We have conceptualized and crafted permanent public art installations, danced, performed, sung, celebrated, composed, laughed, designed, exhibited and learned.

Dominant Media Forms

not provided


Statement of Principles

not provided


Sunday Drop-In Arts

Multigenerational drop in arts workshops featuring everything from basketmaking, t-shirt design and graffiti to dance, jewelry making, silkscreening, cake decorating and more!

view photos

Gettin’ Down with ‘Dower

Glendower is now proud to present its very own hip hop dance crew led by renowned dancer/choreographer Paul Thurton,(aka Kaze), of Simply Swagg Dance Studio. Due to the immense success of our Glendower Dance crew program, (designed by Art Starts’ resident led Glendower Arts Council), we have decided to continue to nurture the talents of 15 local youth throughout the summer and fall. They are currently developing a crew name and recruiting more dedicated young dancers from neighbouring communities.


view photos

Glendower Mosaic Project

The summer of 2007 saw the launch of a groundbreaking and truly distinctive 4-phase project. Art Starts, working in partnership with facilitating artists Red Pepper Spectacle Arts, worked with Glendower residents to conceptualize, draw and handcraft mosaic designs for the walls surrounding their basketball court. The final piece, which covers ¼ of the court wall, is a permanent testament to the community’s cohesiveness, creativity, ideas and collective effort. This project galvanized the Glendower community in an unprecedented way, fostering a spirit of generousity and collaboration, building bridges and engendering a strong sense of individual and collective pride.

Our 3rd phase of the Glendower basketball mosaic began in summer 2009 and is the most exciting yet! Art Starts has recruited five youth from the community to be trained in the art of mosaic making by facilitating artist Gabi Caruso of Red Pepper Spectacle Arts. The youth came up with a large-scale design based on the theme of empowerment, solidarity and unity in our communities past and present. The youth are also in charge of recruiting the larger community to participate in tiling the design onto the wall. Making progress piece by piece!

view photos from 2008

: Live Large

The culmination of six weeks of workshops with renowned artist Dan Bergeron, Program Manager Sarah Bothwell and the children and youth of Art Starts’ Villaways Art Studio. Bergeron worked with participants to create a series of straight-talking images ranging from life-sized to building-sized portraits reflecting on sense of community, sense of play and sense of self. Go and see them for yourself – look out for them as you travel up Leslie just north of Sheppard.

view photos

Afterschool Arts & Creative Cooking

Participants aged 6 to 19 work with professional artists to explore their community – its people, its space, its state of being. Mediums explored include video, writing/spoken word, photography, sculpture, sound art, mosaic, stilt walking, go-kart construction and more. Each program session also includes a cooking component, where participants learn how to make delicious, healthy foods from scratch and then dine together. All programs are Coordinated by Program Manager Yvette Martin.

view photos

Villawayz Women’s Health Circle

The Women’s Health Circle explores health and wellness from a community perspective as individual, independant women. Workshops include drama and role-playing, creative movement, meal preparation, knitting/crocheting, sewing and creative writing. Childcare is included for the women for the duration of the program.

Dusk Dances – Earlscourt Park

Art Starts is proud to have formed a three year partnership (2009-2011) with Dusk Dances to co-produce an outdoor dance festival bringing innovative contemporary and traditional dance to public parks as the sun sets. Our collaborative Dusk Dances festival takes place in Earlscourt Park, in the St. Clair and Caledonia neighbourhood. Each evening the park resonates with the energetic sounds of the Samba Squad, and the resulting crowds are engaged by a wide variety of performances including five eclectic dance pieces that unfolded in different areas of the park. Every year the turn-out has been phenominal and we can only anticipate even more community engagement and support in the years to come!
view photos

Graffiti Transformation Project


Every summer we hire emerging artists between the ages of 15 and 20 to work with professional mural artists. Together they conceptualize, design and produce a mural to animate neglected walls across the city. So far we have worked to transform many walls including most recently at Steeles & L’Amoreaux in 2008, Dundas & Dupont in summer 2009, and most recently the underpass at the north entrance to the Yorkdale Subway Station in summer 2010. Keep an eye out for more Art Starts murals popping up around the city in the years to come!

view photos from 2008

view photos from 2009

photos from 2010 – coming soon!

The Urban Griots of T-dot

The Urban Griots of T-dot was a program for youth aged 16-22 facilitated by critically acclaimed dub poet, actor and playwright D’bi Young and Coordinated by Rea MacNamara. Over a period of ten weeks, participants explored the four elements of dub poetry: language, rhythm, political content and orality and addressed issues of race, gender/sexuality, identity, class, community, family and self-esteem. The program culminated in the creation of a theatre piece and book entitled “PN numero uno: jinch malrex” written, conceptualized and performed by the griots. Their work was a huge success and resulted in a feature interview on the CBC radio show Big City, Small World with host Garvia Bailey.

view photos

Art In XS

Art Starts arts-based summer camp for children aged 8-13 years old and run annually at our Villawayz and Dufferin & Eglinton sites. Including week long creative intensives exploring visual arts, dance, music, sculptural explorations, theatre and performance, craft, literary arts and illustration. Using a variety of artists across these diciplines all programs are coordinated by Program Managers Erin Schachter and Yvette Martin.

photos coming soon!

The School of Rap

An 8 week program facilitated by Dan-e-o, a brilliant socially concious Toronto hip-hop legend. The School of Rap focuses on the history of hip hop and it’s influence on contemporary culture. Participants are given the opportunity to write and record original hip hop tracks and perform at a live event in the community.
view photos


As part of the The City of Toronto’s Wintercity Festival at Nathan Phillips Square, Art Starts’ artist Douglas Hurst and a team of volunteers helped over 500 Torontonians create their very own Funky Fleece Knot Hats.
view photos

Though the Lens

Program description and photos coming soon!

Dramatic Expressions

Caregivers work with a professional dramatist to create a dynamic theatrical production based on personal and collective interests, struggles and accomplishments.

view photos

Creative Expressions

Caregivers work collaboratively with professional visual artists in a wide variety of media. Past programs explored fashion design, embroidery, jewelry making, painting, quilting, silk-screening sculpture and more.

view photos


Stressbusters uses dramatic and visual arts to help women explore stress and anger in their lives and develop positive strategies to help them relax and stay calm while facing the challenges of parenting. A concurrent group for preschool children provides social skill-building and some relaxation techniques for children.

SuperNova Arts

A multi-diciplinary arts program for children and youth at 145 Neptune Dr. Workshops include in depth sessions on world drumming, mural painting, beat-making and more.

The Element

A weekly program for youth 13+ tp explore the fusion of danc, singing, rap, drama, music production and fashion. The Element also includes a job training component where participants learn to be artistic leaders within their own community.

view photos


SuperNova Mural Program

Residents of our Neptune site work with Fly Lady Di to conceptualize and design a mural for the community program room. The mural launch will be held on Dec 18th 2010.

photos coming soon!




Samples of work


Click here to access more samples of projects 









Funding Sources