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Catching up with ArtBridges: A new chapter begins for former shared platform project

In December of 2018, after 10 years on Tides Canada’s shared platform, ArtBridges began a new chapter.  We sat down with Co-founder and Director Seanna Connell to talk about the project’s growth over the past decade, the decision to transition to a National Arts Service Organization, and the bright future ahead.

Since ArtBridges left our shared platform at the end of last year, the organization has made a big success of branching out solo, building its capacity to support arts projects that lead to social change, making communities healthier and more resilient as a result.

“ArtBridges is a Canada-wide hub for community-engaged arts and arts for social change,” says Co-Founder and Project Director, Seanna Connell. “We connect initiatives across the country in all arts disciplines: dance, visual arts, music, theatre and so on – bringing them into communities that are underserved and under-resourced – the inner city, north, rural, and remote areas. The point is to look at how the arts are a part of creating resilient communities and how they form an essential part of community development.”

Art bridges programs

These pictures have been submitted to ArtBridges from community partners.

For 10 years, ArtBridges was part of the Tides Canada shared platform, building partnerships with more than 395 initiatives across the country and establishing a network that is still growing rapidly. During that time, ArtBridges improved access to community arts; raised awareness of the benefits of arts for social change; mentored community arts organizations; and helped them to foster useful collaborations. The operation has now scaled to the point where it makes more sense to seek funding and employ resources as a stand-alone entity.

“When we began in 2008, it was before social media was being used for work. I could only name a few community arts organizations in Toronto, and we knew there had to be other amazing things going on across the country. We wanted to map them and connect them, so they could share organizational models, best practices, lessons learned, resources, and what works well” Connell explained. “Then we wondered as historians: what would the collective impact be from doing this, and what can that demonstrate to funders and policy-makers?

Tides Canada thought our idea was great, because there’s a youth leadership and social justice aspect to it too. The whole process took less than a year, from idea to becoming something. They really believed in it, as much as we did.”

Art bridges programs

These pictures have been submitted to ArtBridges from community partners.

From that initial idea, ArtBridges grew with the support of donations, sponsorships, membership fees, with single and multi-year grants from the likes of The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, The Ontario Trillium Foundation, and the Canadian Heritage Support for Interpretation and Translation. Connell and her co-founder, Kate Austin, used the money to spend three years on the finding and mapping phase, intensively searching for projects in every province. At the same time, they provided services to arts initiatives in the form of contacts, advice, ideas, and collaborative engagement. After that, they made over 250 site visits to meet partners and see the projects in action – in between presenting at conferences, workshops, Google hangouts, webinars, roundtables, and other kinds of sessions.

“The point was always to look at how the arts are a part of creating resilient communities and how they form an essential part of community development,” said Connell. “The shared platform gave us the means to do that.”

To that end, a key part of ArtBridges work has involved creating a new interactive online hub, using an array of accessible technologies to reach and connect community partners across the vast geographies of Canada. The site continues to host hundreds of affordable and accessible arts initiatives, training opportunities, events, and reports about arts for social change, alongside information on the Community Blog, Facebook, Twitter, and newsletters in French and English.

In a further boost for public awareness, Connell and Austin also produce the ‘Annual Recognition Awards’, showcasing extraordinary community arts-based work from across the country.

A clear vision, hard work, and savvy operations management lead ArtBridges to a point of transition. In December 2018, after a decade on the shared platform, they made the decision to begin a new chapter  – becoming a Registered National Arts Service Organization, a registered charity, and an incorporated nonprofit.

Seanna, Kate, and the Tides Canada shared platform team are proud of the work we’ve accomplished together since 2008, and the future looks bright.

“It’s a truly Canadian story, taking place in a Canadian context,” says Connell. “French, English, First Nations, Metis, Inuit and newcomers, people of all ages – we want to include everyone. Those who want it, should have a chance to access community arts and be a part of social change.”


This article was written for Tides Canada by Kate Rowswell. 

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