If you’ve ever walked through the beautiful 401 Richmond building and wondered who occupied all the different office spaces, here’s one organization you’ll want to meet! As the restored heritage building acts as an arts and culture hub in the Toronto Entertainment District to over 140 artists, innovators and galleries, it’s no wonder VIBE Arts’ headquarters is based there too. We had the privilege of connecting with VIBE Arts’ Communications Coordinator, Meredith Stapon! With her help, we’re here to paint you a picture of the organization’s structure and how it connects those aged 3-29 in under-resourced communities with artist educators in disciplines such as visual arts, photography, digital art, dub poetry, dance, drama and music – including African drumming and Aboriginal drumming and beatboxing! Its sustainable and localized programming provides youth in Ontario with free resources in shelters, hospitals, community centres, libraries and Aboriginal agencies – in over 50 communities. Take it away, Meredith!
Tell us about VIBE Arts—its founding, mandate, values, and the role it plays in Toronto’s youth community.
VIBE Arts has been around for over 20 years. Arts for Children of Toronto was founded in 1995 by Lola Rasminsky and started small as a provider of arts scholarships to youth. Since then, VIBE has undergone years of evolution to best serve the needs of young people in Toronto. Today, we provide free arts education opportunities to children and youth in Ontario’s most under-resourced communities. That’s not all – our work is divided into two themes, Arts Education and Mentorship – we succeed in feeding hands-on mentorship to young artists across Toronto directly through our community-based work.
Why base VIBE Arts in the Toronto Entertainment District? Walk us through your 401 Richmond Street West office.
Our office serves primarily as an administrative hub, which means there’s often a lot of people typing away at computers. In one corner, the Fund Development team crafts grant applications in hopes of securing funding to fuel our summer Drive the VIBE programming and in another, programming connects with community partners in Sioux Sault Marie to nail down three years of Boreal Creates workshops. We are a small team of eleven, which means collaboration is a must. Each Wednesday, we gather around the centre table to meet, share a snack, check-in and lend support where we can. Once a month, our space hosts meetings for our Youth Advisory Council: a group of young community members who help drive our vision and keep us current. There are often people coming and going – whether it’s a youth artist dropping in to pick up a cheque from the dance workshop they taught, or our Mentorship Coordinator heading out for a site-visit. Being a part of 401 is definitely a treat – sharing space with other creatives and organizations really keeps us on our toes. The majority of our work is done in-house, but it’s nice to know that we’ve got printing shops, designers, and galleries right around the corner.
What do you enjoy most about this area? Name a few of your favourite places to eat or hang out after work.
Where to begin? Our Toronto Entertainment District location puts us dangerously close to amazing restaurants, cafes and shops. Our office collectively frequents CJ Lunchbox – a quick takeout sushi spot! For special occasions, we hit Ricarda’s and every once in a while, we grab a post-work drink at Wide Open.
Tell us about VIBE Arts’ current & upcoming programs and initiatives. How does it engage community members of the Toronto Entertainment District and Toronto in general?
We’re always connecting with community partners, in TED and beyond, to create and coordinate workshops for the future. Right now, we’re really excited about this year’s Youth Week, which VIBE will co-present alongside the City of Toronto (TYES). We’re also starting up a new RBC Emerging Artist Program, called Desire Lines. This project will give residencies to 8 emerging artists to lead their own programs and construct pieces to be exhibited in TTC subway stations. The Entertainment District is central to our city and gives us the accessibility and reach to connect with every area that we work in.
Do you have a story or a moment to share that illustrates the great impact VIBE Arts has on its community?
We’ve inspired many youth by introducing them to mediums that they wouldn’t normally have access to. One participant in particular enjoyed our photography program so much that he began pursuing it as a full-time hobby. Things like that happen all the time, where we hear from parents or participants that VIBE has launched someone into a new creative chapter. Another child wrote us a note that said, ‘This photography class was as good as Chicken McNuggets, and nothing is as good as Chicken McNuggets.’ So, there’s that.
How can readers get involved with, or support, VIBE Arts?
We always like to reinforce that even the smallest bit of support helps. Yes, it sounds like the Wikipedia donation ask, but it’s true! There are loads of ways to collaborate with and support us, and we always welcome new ideas. One big way that you can help is by hosting your own fundraiser – a garage sale or dinner party – and offering VIBE a portion of your proceeds. We love that! Additionally, we will soon welcome members to join our organization as VIBE Arts Advocates and Young Advocates for the Arts. As committed supporters of VIBE Arts, members will benefit from exclusive perks and invitations to community arts events. If you’re looking to get involved, follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You should also sign up for our newsletter. That’s really the best way to stay in the loop with everything VIBE. Like what you read here? Keep up with all of the Toronto Entertainment District BIA’s community stories and follow us on Facebook, Instagram (@entertainmentdistrictto) and Twitter (@Toronto_ED). Want to be featured in an upcoming blog post? Contact us! firstname.lastname@example.org