Transforming Communities Through the Arts

In 2011 the Toronto Arts Foundation received funding from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to lead a research partnership with Art Starts, OCAD University and York University. The goal of the study was to gain a better understanding of how residents engage with the arts at a community level, to explore barriers to arts access and to identify ways to strengthen local arts engagement.

A man holds a baton and is singing in front of a crowd. They are in a park.

Neighbourhoods are filled with creative energy! From local festivals bringing people into the streets and parks, to art classes for children and knitting circles for adults; from showcases highlighting fashion design and urban dance, to community gardens festooned with colourful fences, to graffiti artists using buildings as canvases; from people meeting up to make music together, to individuals quietly working on their calligraphy; from plans to open cultural hubs to enterprising people finding a way to sell their art – there is no shortage of vibrant expression in the communities we researched. The question is rather how the work can be supported and encouraged and how residents can become more in touch with the creative potential of their neighbourhoods.

From June 2011 to July 2013, the research team conducted a research study to explore arts involvement and the impact of arts in three neighbourhoods in Toronto. The goals of the study were to: 

  • gain a better understanding of how residents engage with the arts at a community level;
  • explore barriers to arts access; and 
  • identify ways to strengthen local arts engagement.

Working with community organizations and community liaison workers, 17 researchers made 300 connections and conducted focus groups, interviews and surveys with close to 200 residents, artists, arts groups and social service organizations working and living in three communities: Malvern, St. James Town and Weston Mt. Dennis.

Funded by SSHRC