Author Archives: Avenue Road Arts School

Painting a Portrait of Hope

The Toronto Star
October 22, 2003

Painting a Portrait of Hope
by Martin Knelman

Camila Wong is a 14-year-old student from Peru who excels at painting and drawing. Her parents endured hardships upon moving to Toronto last year, but a priority was made to find a rewarding, creative outlet for their daughter.

Complicating matters was Camila’s hearing disability.

The magic answer for Camila and her parents was the Arts for Children outreach program at Lola Rasminsky’s Avenue Road Arts School. Camila now attends regular art classes on a full scholarship.

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Young and old meet in harmony

The Toronto Star
March 23, 2002

Young and old meet in harmony
by Sarah Jane Growe

They’re becoming tessellations — “arrangements of minute parts closely fitted together” — and it’s happening right here, as we speak, to 50 seniors and students in the old city of York.

Joanne Indovina actually used tessellations to introduce the two generations last fall. Each of her Dennis Avenue Community School Grades 4 and 5 students drew puzzle patterns on a computer-enhanced colour photo, then cut out the parts of the self-portrait to send — in stages — to a pen pal partner at the nearby George Syme 55+ Centre.

“It was like creating a mystery,” says Indovina, whose class was asked to be part of a multi-faceted intergenerational mosaic coming to fruition this week.

The pen pal exchange put the first pieces in place.

Indovina taught the youngsters how to structure their initial letters, which included the first set of photo pieces. Their next letters, responding to the older pen pals, were supposed to be more spontaneous, the teacher says, but “a lot of them had a hard time with that.”

In fact, for Rebecca Gunness, the note from pen pal Dorothy O’Donnell was the first she had ever received from an “older person.” The 11-year-old has a cousin, 26, in England who writes regularly. “But I mean someone really, really beyond my age.” the girl explains.

O’Donnell, 69, just laughs. Her youngest granddaughter is a year older than Rebecca. “I write to Rebecca in the same way I talk to her,” she says, as the pair makes its way to the Dennis Avenue gym for the second practice of a 50-voice choir.

The intergenerational choir is the second layer of the mosaic.

The two sections have been rehearsing separately every week since November — the students singing the melody in the mornings and the seniors singing the back-up harmony in the afternoons.

But the full choir’s “deeply rich, resonant sound,” as school principal Gary Hopson describes it, has been heard only once before. That’s when the pen pals finally met in February, practised their songs and then visited over coffee and cookies.

“It was just like glue,” Indovina recalls.

Linking seniors and youngsters in song is not a new idea. Fran Goldman conducted choirs like this in local schools for nine years, until the funding ran dry three years ago.

“The music is the vehicle that bonds these generations,” she says.

And getting the groups in pairs to write to each other while they are singing together has been integral to the concept of linked choirs ever since it emerged out of New York 12 years ago, Goldman says.

“The pen pal component adds such a dimension of warmth and sharing and excitement to the experience of the singing,” Goldman explains. “There is only so much dialogue you can get going when they meet for 10 minutes.”

Goldman was asked to lead this particular choir by the director of the Avenue Road Arts School. Lola Rasminsky wanted the 50 linked voices to support the intergenerational art exhibit at BCE place, on display until April 5.

Art is the third layer of the mosaic.

It started with an anonymous donor giving Rasminsky money to stage art classes with older people in the old city of York. (“That’s the area of Toronto that interests him,” she says. He has declined to speak for himself, she says.)

Rasminsky sent two of the school’s teachers to work with Syme Centre seniors in a specially created weekly arts-project class last fall. They made a “Cloak Of Many Memories,” a collage reflecting their rich and varied histories. Theirs is the “past” part of the exhibit at BCE Place.

Then she thought she’d get young people to draw, too. Another art school teacher visited selected Dennis Avenue school students a few times last fall, to draw renditions of what they want to be when they grow up. Their visions, “What Children Dream Of,” is the “future” part of the display.

Then she added Goldman, who brought along the pen pal element.

The donor committed up to $10,000 to fund the expanded version of the project, and the writing/singing/art tessellation was born.

Indovina is grateful for Goldman’s musical instruction, which she wouldn’t be able to provide. “She’s not just teaching them songs. She’s teaching them how to breathe. She’s teaching them a technique for learning a whole different vocabulary.”

A Celebration of Lives Lived and Lives Dreamt Of

Press Release
March 17, 2002

A Celebration of Lives Lived and Lives Dreamt Of
An artistic look at the inner worlds of seniors and children

The Avenue Road Arts School, in collaboration with the Symes 55+ Centre, Dennis Avenue Public School, and Ottawa artist, Jerry Grey, will be mounting an exhibit at BCE Place from March 18 to April 5, 2002, entitled: A Celebration of Lives Lived and Lives Dreamt Of. The show will combine the artwork of seniors, children and a professional artist who has created a series of portraits of old people entitled Rare Spirits: A Personal Tribute to Vintage Elders.

The purpose of the show will be to draw attention to the inner resources of remarkable senior citizens and, at the same time, celebrate the inner life of children as depicted through representations of their dreams. These two groups have much in common and we can all learn a great deal from their artistic expression.

Intergenerational Activities
The show will afford many opportunities for children and old folks to come together in a meaningful way. The launch of this exhibit at BCE Place will include a performance by an intergenerational choir consisting of members of the Symes 55+ Centre and Grades 4 and 5 children from Dennis Avenue Public School (an inner city school). For the last three months a teacher from the Avenue Road Arts School has been working with the children and seniors to prepare for this event. Even before the two choirs join together, they will participate in writing letters to each other and will therefore connect in a significant way.

As part of the show we would also like to offer weekend hands-on art activities appropriate for both seniors and children so that they could work side by side on producing their own creations. Crayola Canada will provide materials for these activities.

The Artwork
The children’s work will include pieces from the first exhibit of the Avenue Road Children’s Art Gallery, entitled What Children Dream Of, which recently opened at the CBC building on Front Street. The BCE show will include many additional works created by children from Dennis Avenue Public School and students of the Avenue Road Arts School. The seniors’ work represents the culmination of a project that the Avenue Road Arts School has undertaken in conjunction with the Symes 55+ Centre, a drop-in facility for the ‘well elderly’ in one of the highest risk areas of the city, near St. Clair and Jane Street. They have created a Cloak of Many Memories which they have been working on for several months.

Renowned Artist Jerry Grey
Ottawa-based artist Jerry Grey’s portrait series – Rare Spirits: A Personal Tribute to Vintage Elders has been exhibited to great critical acclaim in Ottawa and Vancouver. It includes both black-and-white and colour pastels of many distinguished senior Canadians, including Bill Reid, Doris Shadbolt and Louis Rasminsky. The show is a remarkable expression of the depth and resourcefulness that comes with aging.

Because BCE Place is such a heavily trafficked area (20,000 per day), we see this as a wonderful opportunity to give people in the business world exposure to the artwork and inner lives of children and seniors in a thought-provoking, engaging manner.

Avenue Road Arts School History and Mission
The Avenue Road Arts School was founded in 1993 with the purpose of offering high quality experiences in the arts to people of all ages in a relaxed and congenial environment. The school has grown from 200 students in the first year to more than 1,000 students at this time. In 1995, the school established a charitable organization, Arts for Children of Toronto, which raises money to provide scholarships to children to attend classes at the Arts School and to fund projects designed to have a positive impact on large numbers of children. To date, several hundred children have attended the school on scholarship.

Previous Exhibits
The last show that the Avenue Road Arts School mounted – a Millennium Project entitled Walking in the Shoes of the Masters; Children Look at Art Through Time, was initially presented at Metro Hall. After a successful ten-day stay, the show was invited to the Atrium of BCE Place. The school has been invited back to BCE Place with carte blanche – this time for three weeks. The last exhibit was sponsored by The Toronto Millennium Fund, the Toronto Community Foundation, C.A. Delaney Capital Management, the Edward Bronfman Family Foundation and Gluskin Sheff + Associates.

This exhibit will have a positive impact on large numbers of people – both participants and observers. It’s an exciting opportunity to promote the value of the artmaking experience in a new context, as well as to showcase the remarkable work of young and old alike.

For further information, contact Lola Rasminsky at: (416) 961-5343 or by email at:

The Galleria is open to the public from 8 am until midnight every day, March 18 to April 5, 2002. Admission is free. BCE Place, 181 Bay Street, Toronto.

The dreams of children and seniors

The Toronto Star
March 17, 2002

The dreams of children and seniors
by Aparita Bhandari
Entertainment Reporter

Nine-year-old Jennifer McPherson giggles, her hair spilling down her face, as she explains her dream of flying into a dog place where everything is made of biscuits. She would like to own a golden retriever, but it won’t be till she leaves home for university because her father is allergic to dogs.

McPherson, her brother Matthew McPherson, 11, Kai Broomfield, 7, and Rebecca Di Pucchio, 8, have made eyes with dreams written in them. About a foot long, the eyes are of clay and glazed shiny. Some are open, others half closed.

Broomfield’s eye tells of her dream to fly — on a pony. But in her dream, she crashes. Matthew McPherson dreams of flying and falling, and Di Puccio dreams of becoming a better swimmer.

The dreaming eyes are one of the exhibits of A Celebration Of Lives Lived And Lives Dreamt Of, an exhibition being held by the Avenue Road Arts School in partnership with Dennis Avenue Public School, the Symes 55+ Centre and Ottawa-based artist Jerry Gray.

Several of the Avenue Road Arts School’s classes have contributed to the exhibition, which will start tomorrow and run through April 5 in the corridor of BCE Place.

The children are sitting around a table in the attic of the Avenue Road Arts School. “You have to see this,” says Lola Rasminsky, the founder and director of the school, leading the way into a washroom that’s been converted into a magical fairy town. “We change the theme regularly.”

The arts school started out in Rasminsky’s Toronto house in 1979. Then it had six students. Now it holds classes for 1,000 students, ranging from preschoolers to seniors.

A short while ago Rasminsky worked on an outreach program teaching art to seniors and children. “That made me think about bringing (the two groups) together,” she says.

Rasminsky’s first thought was an inter-generational choir.

But then, she delved into organizing an exhibition of paintings, pottery and other crafts to “celebrate lives lived and lives dreamt of.” Besides the dreaming eyes, classes have made dream beds, dream boxes and dream pillows. Some children made artwork about nightmares.

“We don’t try and patronize them,” says curator Irene Luxbacher. “It’s not about being perfect. We let them explore what they feel.”

Additional work created by children from Dennis Avenue Public School is included in the children’s section called What Children Dream Of. The seniors’ work was created as a joint project between the Avenue Road Arts School and the Symes 55+ Centre and is titled Cloak Of Memories.

Gray’s portrait series, Rare Spirits: A Personal Tribute to Vintage Elders, will also be on display. Rasminsky was familiar with the series, which started with Gray’s painting portraits of her father.

Gray’s paintings depict the pain, vulnerability, spirit and determination of the people she painted. The artwork of the students of Rasminsky’s school shows unfettered creativity.

Both are examples of the ability to step outside a comfort zone.

“I think we can learn a lot from both seniors and children, these groups that are normally marginalized,” she says. “My own father lived till he was 90 and taught me a lot. And children. They are willing to try everything.”

Lessons to Master Business

The Globe and Mail
March 11, 2002

Lessons to Master Business
LOLA RASMINSKY writes that a pianist’s advice
can apply to management practices

While attending a master class in piano performance by well-known Vancouver pianist Robert Silverstein recently, I was struck by how transferable his advice was to non-musical settings. Had I not been sitting in the concert hall of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, I could have well imagined myself taking in a lecture on leadership or strategic management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

I have always been intrigued by how much business executives can learn from artists about how to conduct themselves within a corporate context. In the business world, there is a premium on the ability to “think differently.” Who could teach us better than the people who spend their time creating, namely successful artists of any kind?

Mr. Silverman’s master class could easily have been a lesson in how to make sure your business goes forward productively. His first questions were: “Where are you going with this piece? Why are you interpreting the piece in this way?” Many management consultants insist that the first order of business for any organization is to clarify and distill exactly where the company is going. What is the vision? What are the important values driving senior management? What will move people to want to come to work in the morning?

Often, companies get into trouble because they oscillate between competing values. Let’s say, for example, they make a commitment to innovation. Developing new products and new ways of doing things becomes a stated priority. But the moment things stop going exactly as anticipated, senior management pulls the plug on the innovation priority and goes back to focusing on the bottom line. And then the cycle begins all over again, leaving everyone confused about what the company is really all about.

Tempo is another theme that crosses over. “Think about your tempo before you begin the piece,” Mr. Silverman insists. “Look at the most difficult passage in the work and assess how quickly you can manage that tempo.” He’s talking about sustainability. There’s no point bursting out of the starting gate at a breakneck speed if you can’t keep it up. How many businesses get into trouble because they cannot keep up with the pace they ambitiously set at the outset?

In this master class, Mr. Silverman often invoked the “imagine” priority. “Imagine a dialogue within the piece,” he suggested. “Imagine a different instruments playing the melody and the inner voices.” When our imagination is engaged, the result will have more energy.

Engaging the imagination is probably the most empowering activity any of us can participate in. The imagination is the one place we have unlimited possibilities to choose from. When we brainstorm to come up with new ideas, we use our imagination. When we go out on a limb to consider new ways of doing things, we use our imagination. When a musician plays a piece of music, it will be much more colourful if the imagination is involved.

Many of us want to pursue excellence in business as well as art, but don’t really know how. Mr. Silverman’s piano master class gives us a good start.

Lola Rasminsky is director of the Avenue Road Arts School in Toronto. She is also director of Beyond the Box, a corporate training program that encourages executives to “think differently” by employing strategies used by artists.

An uptown singalong

The Toronto Star
Nov. 12, 2001

An uptown singalong
Local amateurs croon favourites from the Great White Way
Janice Mawhinney
Life Writer

“I got rhythm.” The 46 singers are belting out the music with indisputable passion.

Some of them are off key, and a few straggle off the time.

It can’t be denied: They’re no Kiri Te Kanawa. In fact, they’re no John Denver. But they sure are enthusiastic.

“I got music. I got my girl; who could ask for anything mo-o-o-o-ore!”

This event is in the guise of a night school course. What it actually is, is a sensation.

The Avenue Road Arts School’s weekly two-hour singalong evening of Broadway show tunes has become so popular that the school opened a second section this term on another evening. School founder Lola Rasminsky says new people join the second group every week, and she’s prepared to start a third for the winter term if the numbers keep growing.

Getting together to sing “Oklahoma” and “Get Me To The Church On Time” clearly has appeal. The singing group fills the room with an extraordinary energy.

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Hire an Artist, It’s Good for Business

Taken from the Globe and Mail, July 14, 2001

When it comes to productivity, corporate CEOs are the mirror image of artists. Many can command obscenely high pay packages, even as the value of their companies’ stocks declines, as recent media stories attest. It may be hard for the business world to admit, but impecunious artists who produce a lot for a little might have a thing or two to teach them.

Productivity is only one. Companies that want to hang on to their competitive edge must think and do things differently as they develop a new product, a unique marketing approach, or a cutting-edge financing model. The most successful enterprises harbour and support creative thinkers, people skilled at breaking the rules. An example: Dell Computers employees decided not to follow the tradition of using third parties to market and distribute their products. They did it themselves — successfully.

One of the most compelling questions for business today is how to come up with new ideas. Who knows more about creative thinking than the people who spend their days and nights creating?

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Portrait of an Artist as Free-form Exec

The Financial Post
November 21, 2000

Portrait of an Artist as Free-form Exec
In this arts-based program, executives are encouraged to think beyond their routine and daily mental box

Besides the occasional glance at the painting hanging on the boardroom wall, few people rarely pause to contemplate what merits, besides esthetic, art might bring into their workplace.

Lola Rasminsky, director of Toronto’s Avenue Road Arts School createdBeyond the Box to bring the value of artistic thinking to corporate culture. Now in its second year, the program has been seen by groups from Nortel Networks Corp., the Rotman School of Management and Alliance Atlantis Communications.

Recently, 12 members of Hellin Marketing Group took part in a four-hour Beyond the Box workshop at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto. As the session begins the Hellin employees are seated in a circle and classical music plays in the background. Ms. Rasminsky tells the participants to think of this exercise as a “form of cross-training for creative problem solving.”

Along the same line as lateral thinking (a method of solving problems indirectly or by apparently illogical methods) pioneered in the late 1960s by theorist Edward de Bono, Beyond the Box uses the artist’s vision, as Apple Computer’s ad campaign promotes, to “Think Different.” Through drama and art exercises, it encourages you to find ways of thinking and responding that you might not have considered in the past.

Presented with colourful pipe cleaners, glue, construction paper and paint brushes, the staff of Hellin know this is not going to be a regular day at the office. It’s a huge departure from the formal dynamic of the boardroom meeting. “I tend to chair meetings,” says John Crow, former governor of the Bank of Canada. “I certainly wasn’t in a chair here.” On the board of directors of the school, Mr. Crow was one of Ms. Rasminsky’s guinea pigs in developing the program.

“So much of what you do is in the judgmental context, you’re not going to be judged by this. Just see where your fancy leads you,” he says.

In one exercise the members of Hellin are divided into three groups. Using a tray of arts and crafts materials and various non-descript parts you might find in a hardware store they are instructed to create and market a machine to sell. One invention, the Shopping Channel Channeler, channels spirits at home. In a convincing demonstration, the members of the group, posing as Shopping Channel regulars like Sally Struthers and Dionne Warwick, summon the spirit of Elvis Presley. The Channeler is available for three low payments of $19.95 and comes with attractive nose plugs, as stirring up old spirits is a smelly business, explains the participants.

It may appear to be a good excuse to digress into a childhood world of fun and make-believe. But such role-playing has positive results. When people are more relaxed, they share more ideas. Fifty of the top human resources people from Bell Canada went through the program. Georgina Wyman, senior vice-president and chief human resources officer for Bell Canada, says the program loosens up the organization and “loosens up people’s thinking.” Bell has introduced changes in the workplace to promote the free flow of ideas. The quarterly conference call with 700 participants is now done in a talk-show host format.

“They interview me and it makes people more comfortable about asking me questions,” she says. It won’t happen overnight, but the Beyond the Box program is a step toward innovative thinking.

The minimum cost of the program is $4,000 and it can exceed $10,000, depending on the company’s requests. No jacket is required, but Mr. Crow recommends you wear socks without holes.

A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Businessman

The Globe and Mail
November 14, 2000

Have I missed something?

Every provincial government but Quebec has cut back on arts education, apparently deciding that the work force of the future will be better served by graduates with more computer know-how and less training in the arts. At the same time, however, cutting-edge businesses and schools are employing artists and actors to train senior executives in how to think creatively and find new ways of collaborating with colleagues.

I know this, because enlightened companies, such as Bell Canada and Nortel, and the Rotman School of Management have employed the services of art and drama teachers from the Avenue Road Arts School. At the same time, premiers such as Ontario’s Mike Harris find arts specialists entirely dispensable in the public school system. There is an unsettling disconnect here, one that could have a devastating impact in the long term.

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Some Big Shoes to Fill

National Post
September 2, 2000

Some Big Shoes to Fill
Walking in the Shoes of the Masters

So you think the fingerpaintings on your fridge have the makings of a Monet? Julie Frost, curator of Avenue Road Arts School, would agree.

Ms. Frost recently helped 150 kindergarten artists, aged four to six, recreate a Monet garden.

“Flowers are so much a part of children’s lives,” she says. The finished work is complete with lily pads, frogs, flowers more than a metre tall and a Japanese bridge.

The recreation is part of Walking in the Shoes of the Masters: Children Look at Art Through Time, starting September 4 at Metro Hall.

Over a six month period, 800 young students from Avenue Road Arts School were inspired by the great artists of the last millennium to create dose to 30 pieces, including works motivated by Cézanne, Emily Carr and Andy Warhol.

“Interpretations of the masters are always done through an adult voice. Children are much more explorative. They have an uninhibited response [to art]; they take it off in their own direction,” says Ms. Frost.

Some interesting adaptations appear in the children’s reinterpretations. The most obvious difference is an interactive component in many of the displays. You can go inside Warhol’s famous soup can or become part of a Picasso portrait; and the Emily Carr landscape is a robotic sculpture with moveable parts.

Lola Rasminsky, founder and director of the Avenue Road Arts School, says this is part and parcel of 21st-century thinking.

“People no longer have situations where they are content just being observers. [They want to] put themselves into it. Children are tactile, ” she says.

The teachers also hope the skills developed in art class will help kids in the future. “It empowers them, it builds their confidence,” says Ms. Frost.

And in a world that is changing so quickly, art allows children to see things in a different way, a skill that is required today, says Ms. Rasminsky. Businesses are starting to sit up and take notice of the advantages art brings to inventive thinking. BCE and Nortel have sent some of their corporate staff to Ms. Rasminsky’s art classes to help them think more creatively in their daily jobs.

Walking in the Shoes of the Masters: Children Look at Art Through Time, Sept. 4-15, 2000, 8 am to 8 pm, Metro Hall Rotunda, 55 John St.