Celebrating 25 Years

Connecting you to the arts for 25 years

In 2020, Toronto Arts Foundation turned 25! What started out as a single award endowment has grown into a thriving charitable organization that provides essential initiatives, awards and research that strengthen Toronto through the arts. This is how we got here.


1995: With Rita Davies as the Executive Director (1995 -1999) and Margo Bindhardt as the Inaugural President (1995 – 2000), Toronto Arts Foundation is established to give an opportunity to individuals, foundations and corporations to contribute to the arts in Toronto. Surplus funds from the Toronto International Festival of Music and Dance (TIF) are transferred to the Foundation to create an award honouring TIF producer Muriel Sherrin, to be presented every two years. Violinist and Conductor Jeanne Lamon receives the first Muriel Sherrin Award in 1996.

Three women stand together among a crowd of people
The inaugural Ball for the Arts, 1998
1998: With the support of Mayor Mel Lastman, Toronto Arts Foundation hosts its first Ball for the Arts (later called the Mayor’s Evening for the Arts), which grosses $839,000. The Foundation hosts a total of four Ball for the Arts’ (1998-2002) with the support of Mayor Mel Lastman. 


Jane Jacobs stands at a podium
Jane Jacobs speaks at the Great Arts Great Cities symposium
2002: The Foundation, under Executive Director Jim Garrard (2001 -2006), hosts the Great Arts = Great Cities symposium to raise the profile of the arts. Distinguished members of its Advisory Panel including Molly Johnson, Mallory Gilbert, Jane Jacobs and David Mirvish speak about the importance of the arts to thriving cities.

A room of people applaud a performer
The inaugural Mayor's Arts Lunch
2006: Claire Hopkinson becomes Director and CEO of Toronto Arts Council and Toronto Arts Foundation and quickly guides the Foundation to the bold and new direction that we see today. Her vision for Creative City: Block by Block, an idea to bring the arts to the entire City of Toronto, including areas outside the downtown core, kicks off with an artist-led symposium that focuses on using the arts to affect neighbourhood change. 

The inaugural Mayor’s Arts Lunch (now called the Toronto Arts Awards Lunch) awards ceremony is held at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. The Lunch becomes an annual celebratory event, showcasing the depth of talent in the city through the presentation of five awards.

A woman places arrows on a map of Toronto
The development of Neighbourhood Arts Network
2010: Following the release of a study that revealed challenges experienced by artists attempting to engage their local communities, the Foundation launches its Neighbourhood Arts Network (NAN). NAN works to connect and support Toronto’s vital community artists in every neighbourhood. Today, NAN serves approximately 1,900 members.


A flame thrower captivates a crowd
The inaugural Cultura Festival, presented by NYA (2012)
2011: With a demonstrated need for arts engagement in North York, and a timely corporate gift, the Foundation launches North York Arts, a Local Arts Service Organization that incorporates in 2016.

Poet Mustafa Ahmed speaks into a microphone
Mustafa Ahmed performs at the 2012 Mayor's Ball for the Arts
2012: The Ball for the Arts returns under Mayor Rob Ford, with $963,514 raised to bolster the arts in Toronto.

Artist Ghazal Partou jumps in front of her digital billboard in Dundas Square
Ghazal Partou wins the third Telus Newcomer Artist Award (2015)
2013: New sponsors support the launch of the $10,000 TELUS Newcomer Artist Award (2013–2015), and the TD Arts Diversity Award (re-named the Community Arts Award in 2017, and sponsored by MOD Developments in 2019). The two awards expand the Foundation’s inclusion portfolio celebrating newcomer artists and artists who work in diverse communities.

The Foundation launches East End Arts, a Local Service Organization that incorporates in 2018.

Musician Chelsea McBride shakes a person's hand
Chelsea McBride wins the first Emerging Jazz Artist Award in 2014
2014: Donors and jazz enthusiasts Cheryl and Manuel Buchwald approach the Foundation to establish the Emerging Jazz Artist Award.

People sitting at a table raise their hands
The inaugural Creative Champions Network
2015: Mayor John Tory and the Foundation host the sixth Mayor’s Evening for the Arts (renamed from its previous Ball for the Arts), to support the launch of a new city-wide program, Arts in the Parks. The Foundation hosts a total of five Mayor’s Evening for the Arts’ (2015- 2019) with the support of Mayor John Tory.

The Foundation continues and solidifies its important work to develop effective arts leadership in the volunteer sector with the launch of Creative Champions Network

A performer wearing all white stretches their arms while on stilts
Cajuca Mas Art Projects perform as part of Arts in the Parks (2016)
2016: Arts in the Parks is launched in partnership with Toronto Arts Council, Park People, the City of Toronto Parks, Forestry & Recreation and Arts & Culture Services. In its inaugural year, the program brings 250 arts events to 55 parks in 32 wards for audiences of 34,000 people.

Three speakers sit on a stage
The 2018 Emergence Symposium
2018: Neighbourhood Arts Network continues to explore arts and equity through the Emergence Symposium, which in 2018 took place over five days and brought together over 150 arts practitioners, policy makers and community leaders to exchange knowledge, develop leadership skills and collaborate. This was the third Emergence Symposium that NAN has hosted since 2012.

A man stands by a door among a wall of graffiti with the words Arts Stats 2019 overlaid
Arts Stats 2019
2019: The fifth annual Arts Stats examines the city from the perspective of individual artists and arts workers, and the results are sobering. This research project revealed that many of Toronto’s artists cannot sustain a living, and in fact, a large percentage are considering leaving the city.

A hand holds pink powder with the text #TOArtsTogether overlaid
Banner image for our COVID-19 Response Fund
2020: The growing Foundation actively distributes thirty-two awards, brings programming to neighbourhoods throughout the city and engages in arts research. With 25 years of expertise, the Foundation has sufficient capacity to respond rapidly to the COVID-19 pandemic facing our city.