Category Archives: In The News

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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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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Kids Create Fantasy Land

The Toronto Star
August 1, 1998

Kids Create Fantasy Land
Imagination is the key to time travel —
to the past and to the future — for young arts school students

A sparkling 2-metre turquoise dinosaur was the hit of the show.

The amazing creature, made of chicken wire covered by painted paper fabric, was surrounded by clay fossils, plaster dinosaur bones, painted dino footprints on the floor and paper-towel-roll prehistoric bugs on the ceiling, much bedecked with buttons, spools and film reels.

It was the creation of Avenue Road Arts School’s small students, who recently mounted an exhibit on the theme of time travel.

While the wildly colourful displays all over the three-storey building were imaginative and appealing, some kids could hardly tear themselves away from the basement dinosaur expedition.

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Choices, Choices: Fun 101

The Toronto Sun
January 29, 1995

Choices, Choices: Fun 101
Art School Magical Place for Creativity

Entering the Avenue Rd. Art School is like crossing the threshold of a child’s imagination: You’re choosing to learn “art” in its broadest sense, as a child learns art — for fun.

Framed primary-colored paintings hang on dark wood-panelled walls. Carefree wishes — “When I grow up I want to be everything, every day” — are taped around classrooms. Ribbons of twisted green crepe paper transform bathrooms into subterranean seascapes.

“It’s a place of creativity,” remarks retired business journalist Grace McKenzie, 71, now in her fourth drawing course. “The architecture, itself, encourages creativity.”

Vibrancy and fun bubble out of every nook and cranny. And, of course, there’s music in the air. That’s what founder and director Lola Rasminsky wants.

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Adults Just Wanna Have Fun

The Toronto Star
August 6, 1994

Adults Just Wanna Have Fun
It’s like being a kid again at the Avenue Road Arts School
where people can be as loud, messy and creative as they want

Radio personality Andy Barrie used to think it was his own private passion — belting out Broadway show tunes in the shower or wailing them out as he drives along the highway.

Then he came across the Avenue Road Arts School and discovered a whole class full of enthusiastic fellow belters and wailers.

“I found that singing ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’ at the top of your lungs is a secret vice for a lot of people,” he says. “And singing together is one of the great simple pleasures of life.”

Barrie has already taken the class in singing Broadway show tunes three times and be plans to take it again. “It’s amazingly therapeutic,” he observes, “and it’s a lot of fun.”

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