UrbanArts held its 6th annual Culture Shock festival today. Poets, visual artists, musicians, and dancers entertained audiences all through the afternoon and into the evening.
Artists performed in several places around the high school. Highlights included a fashion show, the York Lions Steel Drum band, and performances by local dance groups.
UrbanArts is a youth arts organization on John St in Weston. It is one of four ‘local arts services organzations’ in Toronto; LASOs work in priority neighbourhoods to make “the arts, in all its diverse forms, broadly accessible and affordable.” As well as preparing for the Culture Shock festival, this summer UrbanArts has been hosting camps and running a graffiti prevention project.
“I’d eat that park for supper”, my three-year-old daughter says. “That park is awesome.”
She’s right. The new-and-improved Grattan Park is really fantastic. Gone are the teetertotters and vomit comets; now kids have spring-loaded surfboards, 10-foot wobbly nets, and other really cool play structures.
The park was officially reopened tonight, and more than 60 people showed up to see the ribbon cutting and unveiling. Councillor Frances Nunziata, MPP Laura Albanese, and mayoral candidate Rob Ford were there to say a few words and congratulate residents, planners, and municipal employees on the new park.
Kevin Bowser, the Manager of Parks for the western district spoke about the history of the park and the old children’s summer camp that once was in it. Nunziata spoke about how it had taken 15 years to have the park improved, and how it had deteriorated in the meantime.
Interestingly, Albanese mentioned the political distance between the municipality and the province. She said “I know that the province doesn’t always participate. But I’m glad to find out that we are at least participating in some improvements in the area of York-South Weston.”
Typically, Rob Ford kept his eye on the bottom line. “This is where money should be spent”, he said. “This is what I call smart spending”.
UrbanArts has started a new microloan program for youths. It plans to give $5000 loans to arts entrepreneurs from 18–24 to help them start their own businesses.
Microloans are the newest trend in economic development. The idea is to give loans to people who would not normally be eligible, in amounts that would not normally be profitable for lenders. The theory is that small entrepreneurs can put their knowledge of a community to use where outsiders couldn’t.
Lennox Cadore, the Arts Program Manager at UrbanArts, says that they are “creating opportunities for young people who want to start their own businesses. Artists really are entrepreneurs.”
There are 15 positions available in the business program. Upon graduation, the students will be eligible for the $5000 loans. The money comes from Alterna Savings and the City of Toronto.
According to the Toronto Star, the loans will be at prime plus 6%. If the loans are repaid on time, the 6% will be refunded. The loans must be repaid in three years.
Cadore says that he has already received some applications, and he expects many more.
I made a mistake earlier this week when I reported that UrbanArts had received money to clean up graffiti. I believed that the city sub-committee had authority to hand out the grants. In fact, the full City Council had to approve the spending.
It has. UrbanArts will be cleaning up graffiti in Weston this summer by hiring young people to paint murals around town.
UrbanArts received more than $23,000  from the city of Toronto to run a graffiti cleanup and mural painting program this summer.
The city has been funding graffiti and tag-removal projects since 1996; last year, 100 young people were employed by the Graffiti Transformation program. According to the city, the program targets “marginalized youth who face multiple barriers to employment.” The young people are trained in materials and workplace safety and, according to the city, for many the graffiti transformation project “is their first paid work experience”.
There are two benefits to the program. First, the murals discourage vandals and taggers. The programs also integrate the mural artists into their communities by giving them something they, and the community, can be proud of. They give the artists a stake in their neighbourhood.
Last year, UrbanArts painted two murals and received $22,950 in funding.This year they applied for a 26% increase, but the city turned it down and granted only a 2% increase.
UrbanArts was a little fortunate, however; many communities are interested in the graffiti removal program, but there was no money to expand it this year.
 Whoops. I thought the Community Development and Recreation Committee had the authority to grant this money. City Council will be voting on the issue today and tomorrow.