Category Archives: In The News

Familiar ‘toon faces Murals for Sick Kids patients

The Toronto Star 
November 25, 2006

Familiar ‘toon faces
Murals for Sick Kids patients
By Brett Clarkson

Thomas the Tank Engine and his trusty friends will be a welcome, comforting sight to the young patients on the seventh floor of the Hospital for Sick Children, thanks to a dozen art students.

The group of students from the Avenue Road Arts School were busy yesterday painting Thomas, Percy, James, and other characters from the long-running children’s series on the windows in one of the hospital’s 20 playrooms.

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Congratulations to 2006 RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur Award Winners

Royal Bank of Canada 
November 21, 2006

Congratulations to 2006
RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur Award Winners

Close to 1,000 people gathered to celebrate and support the winners of this year’s prestigious RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur Awards (CWEA), sponsored by RBC Financial Group, at an inspiring ceremony in Toronto on November 21. The preeminent awards provide national recognition to Canada’s women entrepreneurs, whose successful businesses and achievements contribute so much to Canadian and global economies as well as to their communities. Here are the seven outstanding women selected from a record 875 nominations received from across Canada this year – a 55% increase over 2005:

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Women Entrepreneur of the Year Awards

Financial Post
November 21, 2006

Women Entrepreneur of the Year Awards
By Emily Mathieu

Breakthrough work in everything from childhood education to computer programs for cattle farmers garnered top honours for women in business at the 2006 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards.

The event, in its 17th year, honours women who have made a significant contribution to the Canadian economy. It was co-hosted by journalist and businesswoman Diane Francis.

Powerpoint Group Inc., which specializes in marketing to women, produced the event. Royal Bank of Canada was the title sponsor.

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Build self-esteem through art

The Toronto Star 
November 29, 2005

Build self-esteem through art
City lacks accessible programs to engage youth, says Lola Rasminsky

Ten days ago, I attended the funeral of Jamal Hemmings, a youth who was shot down on Eglinton Ave. earlier this month. I was there to support my many friends who live in York Square, where Jamal lived with his mother and sister.

Jamal’s best friend, Amon Beckles, was gunned down on the steps of the church. He had come to pay his final respects, despite warnings that it was not safe for him.

Until the funeral was so shockingly interrupted, it was a beautiful event. Not only was there a heartfelt, moving and articulate outpouring of sorrow and love for this loveable young man, but there was an inspiring display of talent from his many friends who had prepared tributes in song and verse.

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Taming creativity

The Globe & Mail
December 24, 2003

Taming creativity
There are ways to foster innovation without tossing
productivity out the window, writes Lola Rasminsky

Have you ever met an aging bachelor who insists that all he wants in life is a wife and family, but when confronted with a realistic prospect, runs for the hills? Like this gentleman, many companies that talk about the need for innovation very quickly turn cold when asked to make a real commitment.

Most chief executive officers today would agree that their companies need to innovate in order to keep a competitive edge. They understand innovation to be creativity applied to producing new value in the marketplace. Yet, in many organizations, senior managers are afraid to place too great an emphasis on creative thinking.

Why would they fear the very thing that could save them?

Being creative means taking risks, seeing new possibilities, not feeling bound by traditional ways of solving problems, and often breaking long-standing rules. A creative thinker can question basic assumptions and turn conventional thinking upside down.

In today’s workplace, people are constantly being asked to adapt to new technologies, new working groups and new types of projects. This situation requires their minds to be nimble and open — the very qualities that creativity training sharpens. Yet many executives do not want an innovative culture they can no longer manage — or control.

The dilemma is that creative thinking is both necessary for survival and a potentially subversive force.

Are there times when creative thinking is simply inappropriate? This is like asking whether children who express themselves by writing on the walls should be stopped. Of course they should.

Both children and adults can comfortably learn that they are still valued as creative people even when limits are placed on their self-expression.

For much of the time, management needs its people to be onside, not offering challenges or alternative directions. The creative attitude of constantly questioning can be inappropriate and counterproductive. There are certainly times when the values of innovation and productivity can collide.

How then can we strike the delicate balance of encouraging creativity, but not too much of it?

On the control side, everyone in the company must understand that creative thinking should propel the business to realize its strategic goals. There are a couple of ways to achieve that:

Make sure that every employee understands where the company is going and that these goals do not change from month to month. This requires refining, committing to and communicating the vision of the organization to everyone who works there.

Make clear what the budgetary constraints of the company are so that people will police themselves accordingly. If people can be encouraged to take responsibility and motivation upon themselves by embracing the values and aspirations of the company, they will not want to waste time pursuing possibilities that lead in another direction. They will know that ideas should be pursued only if they are useful, not simply intriguing.

In the effort to manage creative output, managers must be careful not to undermine creative thinking and shut people down. Here are some guidelines for keeping the creative spirit alive:

Find ways to engage the imagination and passions of the employees so that their motivation comes from within. This means understanding who your employees really are — what are their interests and skill sets — and then matching them up with work that will challenge them.

Build a trusting and flexible team that will be supportive enough to deal with inevitable setbacks and unexpected demands. A team that includes people from diverse backgrounds is more likely to spark truly original thinking.

Recognize that creative thinking is not just about “big” new product ideas. There’s always a better way of doing a job. Original thinking can be applied to building trust, dealing with conflict, changing company structures and refining processes. The company’s strategic goals must always remain the driving force.

Give people the freedom and resources to think innovatively, where and when it is required. It is not enough to say “Go innovate.” Innovative thinkers must feel supported, not just financially, but they must be allowed to fail in order to learn. It’s almost as valuable to find out what doesn’t work as to find out what does. Managers need to come to terms with the unfortunate reality that this process takes time.

Recognize that what motivates people is feeling valued for their efforts, not just for their successes. Managers need to acknowledge how important their employees’ work is to the organization. We all need to feel that what we do matters — and that we matter as well.

There is a time and place for everything, including creative ideas. For leaders to feel comfortable fostering an ecosystem that nurtures innovation, they will need to be sure that the people who work for the company are committed to achieving the company’s goals. With this trust established, they must listen carefully and keep a true space open for different ideas. Deep commitment from all parties builds an energy base for creativity and productivity.

Like our putative bachelor, with a little bit of trust a company can overcome the fear of the unknown and take a chance on a richer and more expansive world.

Lola Rasminsky is the director of a Toronto training program for executives that encourages them to “think like artists.”

Local Heroes: Art school founder crosses socio-economic borders

The Village Post
November 2003

Local Heroes:
Art school founder crosses socio-economic borders
by Julie Greco

When Lola Rasminsky began teaching six kindergarten children an integrated arts program in the basement of her Russell Hill Road home, she had no idea how quickly it would grow or the impact art would have on children’s lives.

At that time, Rasminsky, who wanted to teach music after taking her M.A. in philosophy at the University of Toronto, decided to begin the program so she could stay at home with her two children. But soon the graduates of the kindergarten class, which combined music, art and drama, wanted to continue. And their parents also wanted to join in. Before she knew it, she had about 100 students in her home basement every day.

To accommodate the growth, she purchased the property on Avenue Road in 1993, and the Avenue Road Arts School was born.

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Arts school reaches 10-year milestone

Town Crier Online
November 11, 2003

Arts school reaches 10-year milestone
by Paul Hutchings

Lola Rasminsky is feeling very proud these days.

This year the Avenue Road School for the Arts, which she founded in her basement in 1979, reached its 10-year anniversary in its present form. Holding classes in such subjects as painting, sculpture, pottery, and drama, the three-storey house doesn’t look like a place where classes could be held — especially for 1,200 students.

“The fact that it’s not a large building is both our strength and weakness,” said Rasminsky.

“The advantage of having a smaller building is that it’s an intimate atmosphere, and the class sizes are small by design, but also by necessity.”

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Getting junior into the “right” art class

The Globe and Mail
October 25, 2003

Getting junior into the “right” art class
by Leanne Delap

“I had a dream,” read the e-mail from a girlfriend whose daughter is named after a semi-precious stone, “that I forgot to enroll her in the toddler class at Avenue Road Arts School!”

The integrated arts preschool, just one component of the facility at Avenue Road below St. Clair, is one of the most popular and renowned of its kind in Toronto — and has stirred the blood of the city’s competitive mothers.

Yes, in a certain, cozily privileged sector of the city, forgetting to register one’s budding Picasso would indeed be a nightmare. The school, which offers dozens of courses in everything from life drawing and pottery to musical theatre (for which local preteens must audition), has waiting lists that grow each year. Some of the summer programs are locked down by March.

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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.”