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The creation of ArtReach was driven by the realization that a growing population of youth in Toronto has little access to relevant cultural programs. At the same time, there was a growing body of research demonstrating that participation in the arts is a very effective means of connecting youth to community. ArtReach is an attempt to increase the availability of quality arts experiences for excluded youth, with the intent of improving youth engagement with community.

The idea was formed in December 2004 at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Roundtable of Arts Funders and Foundations (IRAFF), the topic: youth engagement through the arts. Subsequent meetings between arts funders and the City of Toronto’s Community Safety Panel reinforced the need to increase meaningful and relevant arts opportunities for excluded youth in the city.

In response, a subcommittee of IRAFF was formed to develop new approaches to funding. A funders collaborative and, ultimately, ArtReach, grew out of this IRAFF subcommittee. Funders active in youth initiatives from outside the arts sector, such as the United Way of Greater Toronto and the Toronto Community Foundation, were then approached by the subcommittee to join the funders collaborative. The ArtReach Funders’ Collaborative (2006 – 2010) included: the Department of Canadian Heritage, United Way Toronto, Ontario Trillium Foundation, Laidlaw Foundation, Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, Ministry of Culture, Toronto Arts Council, City of Toronto Cultural Services and Toronto Community Foundation.

A vital element in the development of ArtReach was the involvement of youth, in particular the Grassroots Youth Collaborative (GYC). Members of the GYC were active participants in focus groups and consultations that contributed to the design of the program, and many key program elements were implemented as a result of youth participation in the development process. The GYC encouraged a funding model that would be inclusive, accessible and that would provide a high level of support to applicants. ArtReach is the result of this unique approach to program design, and ultimately, a new model for funding youth arts initiatives.

On December 3, 2010, the ArtReach Funders’ Collaborative evolved into the Founding Members’ Group. A Community Advisory Committee made up of leaders from the youth and arts sector, including Special Advisor Jeff Melanson (Advisor to Mayor Ford on Arts and Culture), took ArtReach through the last phase of strategic planning.

On March 1, 2012, ArtReach became a project of Tides Canada Initiatives Society (TCI). TCI is a registered Canadian charity dedicated to providing uncommon solutions for the common good by leading and supporting actions that foster a healthy environment and just Canadian society. TCI is a shared administrative platform, providing governance, human resource, financial, and grant management, for projects across Canada, allowing projects to more effectively achieve their missions.

In January 2017, ArtReach moved under the shared collaborative platform of Sketch Working Arts. Sketch is a community-arts-development initiative based in Toronto engaging young people homeless and on the margins, ages 16-29, from across Canada. Sketch works to create equitable opportunities for diverse young people to experience the transformative power of the arts; to develop their leadership and self-sufficiency; and to cultivate social and environmental change through the arts.

Special thanks to Laidlaw Foundation, the Funders Collaborative, and Toronto Community Housing for their contributing role in our development.

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