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Toronto’s Lola Rasminsky of Arts for Children and Youth wins National “Local Hero” Award

Media Release – Canadian Urban Institute
For Immediate Release: May 21, 2009

Toronto, Ontario – Lola Rasminsky’s uncomfortable feeling that only children with the financial resources to afford art classes led her to create free instruction in the arts for 40,000 children in Toronto’s under-served neighbourhoods,. Her efforts have earned her national recognition and the Canadian Urban Institute’s 2009 Local Hero Award to be presented June 5 in Toronto at the Urban Leadership Awards.

“Lola Rasminsky has taught us that children from our poorer communities can discover and enjoy art and they can use those talents to give something back, making our neighbourhoods and the City of Toronto a better place for all of us to live,” said CUI President and CEO Glen Murray.

About 500 elite members of Canada’s who’s who of city building will gather in Toronto on June 5 at the Royal York Hotel to honour Lola Rasminsky and 17 other groups and individuals across the country that are making Canadian cities exciting and dynamic places to live and work.

Rasminsky’s vision for the non-profit group, Arts for Children (now Arts for Children and Youth) was created shortly after she started the Avenue Road Arts School in 1993.

“I wasn’t comfortable with the fact that only kids who could afford it could benefit from private art classes. So I started a scholarship program to remove any financial restrictions on who could attend. I soon recognized that we’d reach many more kids if we took the art to them,” said Rasminsky.

Today Arts for Children and Youth (AFCY) has made long term commitments to seven of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods, sending artists into schools and offering after-school programs in these communities. The art instruction often focuses on creating large scale pieces such as murals in school libraries and lunchrooms – lasting and transformational artwork that children and youth can feel proud of, for years and years. For three years, AFCY will partner with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to engage youth in the creation of murals that will be mounted on the sides of buses that travel in and out of their neighbourhoods.

“The lesson is that we have no idea how gifted and capable a lot of our young people are. Too often we only see a negative side of youth. I believe that if more at-risk youth were given a chance to develop their talents, we’d have safer cities. Engaging youth in artmaking really does make a difference to our entire city,” Rasminsky said.

The Urban Leadership Awards (ULA) Program honours Canadian individuals, groups and organizations that have made significant contributions to improving the quality of life in Canada’s cities and urban regions. The 2009 ULA’s have been made possible by the generous support of a variety of corporate sponsors including Gold Sponsors – Loblaw Properties Ltd., Scotiabank, TD Bank Financial Group, the Ontario Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, Environics, the City of Toronto, GE Canada and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). Community Builder Sponsors include Toronto Hydro, Local 27 of the Union of Carpenters and Allied Workers, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Great West Life, London Life and Canada Life Assurance Companies.

The judges for this year’s awards included Canadians who have dedicated their lives to public service and who have detailed knowledge of the local stories and triumphs of Canadians in their home communities. Under the chairmanship of the Honourable David Crombie, the committee included; Al Duerr, former Mayor of Calgary; Newfoundland’s Dr. Linda Inkpen; Dr. Antonia Maioni, Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada; John Kim Bell, founder of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation; Ms. Mitzie Hunter, a Vice President at Goodwill Industries; and, Dr. Nola Kate Seymoar, President and CEO, International Centre for Sustainable Cities, based in British Columbia.

The Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in urban areas across Canada and throughout the world.

For more information or interviews:

Janis Lynch, Manager Urban Leadership Awards, Canadian Urban Institute
p: 416.365.0816, ext 283, c. 416-986-1771, email: jlynch [at] canurb [dot] com

Lola Rasminsky, Toronto, Ontario
p. 416-961-5343, email: lolar [at] rogers [dot] com

Some Facts about Art for Children and Youth (AFCY)

AFCY’s core mission is to ally with communities in providing accessible, artistic opportunities for children and youth from underserved communities, enabling them to discover their own capabilities through quality, hands-on programming.

AFCY provides:

  • High quality hands-on workshops in visual art, drama, music and dance, film making, digital photography and dub poetry conducted by professional artists.
  • Professional Development workshops for teachers and community coordinators/educators.

The following groups are eligible to participate in the Outreach Programs:

  • Schools and organizations in low-income areas of the Greater Toronto Area with limited access to arts programming
  • Not-for-profit organizations that service children and youth with financial, social and language barriers.

How art school can mold and shape your child (Excerpt)

One Picasso, Two Picasso, Three Picasso, Four
How art school can mold and shape your child (Excerpt)

By Jane Bedard

Working on a creation from start to finish also fosters self-confidence, believes Liana Del Mastro Vicente, Director of the Avenue Road Art School, also in Toronto. “Making choices encourages self-esteem,” explains Del Mastro Vicente. “As children’s choices are incorporated into the project, they feel a sense of validation…and by adding their own uniqueness, they are discovering that they are unique.”

Avenue Road Art School offers an integrated approach to the arts, incorporating visual arts, drama, and music. Using themes such as ancient civilizations, children study Egypt, for example, by creating a sarcophagus with a mummy inside, using clay and recycled materials. Then they use theme-appropriate instruments to dance and move, freezing when the music stops, to create a statue of a pharoh, mummy, cat, or pyramid with their bodies. This incorporates the ideas of self and spacial awareness. Themes run between one to four classes, each lasting two and a half hours. The more involved the theme, the greater the sense of accomplishment.

Innovative arts teacher among six female entrepreneurs of the year

Town Crier Online 
January 8, 2007

By Neil Becker

Forest Hill educator Lola Rasminsky was one of six honoured with 2006 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur of the Year awards in a Nov. 21 ceremony at the Metro Convention Centre.

Rasminsky received the Bell Trailblazer Award in recognition of more than 25 years of teaching arts to children and adults.

Winners were selected from 150 semifinalists and more than 800 nominees across Canada.

Rasminsky, a former Associated Hebrew School music teacher, began teaching fine arts to six neighborhood kindergarten-age kids in her basement in 1979. Today she teaches music, drama and visual arts through three venues —Avenue Road Arts SchoolArts For Children and Beyond The Box.

“It’s very important to teach topics such as dinosaurs, friendships and outer space, which interest kids,” she said in sharing some of her teaching methods that made it a success among both kids and parents. “The kids get so energized using their imagination, and it’s fun to see their development.”

The road wasn’t all paved with gold for Rasminsky who because of increased enrollment moved from her basement to the Avenue Rd. location in 1993.

“First year the school got broken into twice. There were only about 200 students and we needed 900 to break even.”

But, she says, she “never once thought about throwing in the towel.”

In the Avenue Rd. location, enrolment grew to 1,200 children. Encouraged, she decided to take another step and in 1995 opened Arts for Children of Toronto, bringing the world of arts to some 8,000 inner city kids.

“We reach about 45 inner city schools and it’s a way for them to unleash their artistic potential,” Rasminsky said.

Beyond the Box is a program that teaches business people to think creatively in their day-to-day lives.

Looking back on that special night, Rasminsky, who doesn’t think of herself as an entrepreneur, praised her staff, which is comprised of 20 full time and 20 part time members.

“The staff does a great job in awakening the talent in the school and this award is also for them,” she said. “I was thrilled by all the nominations that I received from across the country.”

Looking toward the future, Rasminsky is just hoping for more space as enrolment once again continues to be in high demand.

The Queen of Arts

The Globe & Mail 
November 25, 2006

The Queen of Arts
With a successful arts school, a citywide non-profit program and training for execs, Lola Rasminsky inspires kids – and adults – to channel their creativity, VAL ROSS writes

You used to see a lot of Lola Rasminsky in the front hall of the Avenue Road Arts School, chatting in her soft voice with intimidatingly stylish parents as they waited for their little ones to troop out bearing masks and cardboard architectural models. Some parents were friends; some knew her from taking the school’s adult classes; in their professional lives, some attended her corporate workshops.

These days, Ms. Rasminsky spends far more time in places like Portage Trail Middle School, near Jane Street and Weston Road. On a Wednesday morning, Ms. Rasminsky stands in the school’s entryway admiring a mural in progress, as kids, some on scaffolding, daub images on the theme of “peace.” One 12-year-old stops his work to tell her that he loves to draw and wants to design robots. This may be off the topic of peace, but it’s very much in the spirit of Ms. Rasminsky’s philosophy: “I have three endeavours with one message,” she says. “People need to recognize that they’re talented.”

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