Workman Arts is an arts and mental health company known internationally for its artistic collaborations, presentations, knowledge exchange, best practices and research in the area of the impact of the arts on the quality of life of people living with mental illness and addiction.
We work within the mental health and art communities, integrating the two of them. Workman Arts supports the creative goals of emerging and established artists with mental health and addiction issues by providing a safe, nurturing environment where artistic projects, professional opportunities and personal and professional networks are developed and fostered. Through participation in creative and collaborative projects that encourage the exchange of ideas between artist and observer, and the shared collective experience of audiences engaging in performances or presentation of works of art, connections are made between Workman Arts artists and the public at large and the discrimination and prejudice associated with mental illness and addiction is eroded.
Workman Arts (WA) is the longest-running multidisciplinary arts and mental health organization in Canada and in the world. Founded in 1987 by Lisa Brown, a former psychiatric nurse at The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and guided by the principal that the creative process is integral to the quest for personal and spiritual development, Workman Arts has grown over the years from a theatre company of eight member artists to a multidisciplinary arts organization with over 280 artist members. Located in the arts district in west-end Toronto, Workman Arts manages a 220-seat theatre, visual and media arts studios, and training facilities. Its programs, approach and artistic productions have earned it national and international acclaim.
Since inception, Workman Arts has created award-wining performances/exhibitions. These include annual exhibitions in the visual arts held in leading Toronto arts venues, the production and publication of literary works, over 30 original theatre productions including the Dora award-winning Edward the Crazy Man and Third Eye Looming, the creation of the internationally renowned Madness and Arts World Festival, and the first and longest-running mental health film festival in the world, Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival.
Some highlights in Workman Arts history:
- 1988: the first public main stage show with a cast entirely made up of mental health patients succeeded. The team chose a theater play for the first project because this way everybody could come together: painters, writers, dancers, actors, etc.
- 1991: WA was incorporated as an independent organization with a mission to integrate people who received mental health services with the professional theater community. Taking it outside the hospital benefited WA by having more freedom and flexibility in operations, making it possible to pay artists at least the minimum wage at that time.
- 1993: WA creates the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival which grows over 20+ years to become the largest mental health film festival in North America.
- 2003: WA creates inaugural Madness and Arts World Festival at Harbourfront Centre, including 187 artists and speakers from 8 countries. Subsequent editions are produced in Germany (2006) and Netherlands (2010). A China edition of this festival was in planning for 2014.
- 2011: WA receives PSR Canada Pioneer Award for Excellence in Recovery as an organization that has made a significant contribution through promotion of education, support, wellness and recovery in the field of mental health.
- 2014: WA’ Founder Lisa Brown appointed Member of the Order of Canada
Workman Arts facilitates commission opportunities of member artists’ work for individuals, businesses, government and institutions. We work with over 150 visual artists working in mediums including but not limited to painting, sculpture, photography, drawing and mixed media. We recommend member artists based on client needs and project specification, plus support our member artists in responding to commission inquiries, submitting proposals, contract negotiation and installation.
Workman Arts generates revenue though public presentations and special events, an online art gallery for rentals and sales, and an education program (e.g. artists go into the community to talk about their art and health). In most cases all money goes directly to our artists, but we do generate some profit from public presentations and special events, like film festivals, theater productions, book sales etc. The profit goes back to our programs; we provide free training to members.
The current structure of Ontario Disability Support Program is not conducive to social enterprises and people who work within them to become successful.
It is not difficult to get funds for projects but we need operating funds. We try to build an operating component into our projects. Continuing to do it over time slowly increases resources to fund operations.
Perseverance is key to success. People may not understand when you start something new and unique, or the potential impact of your work to provide greater good to society. The journey is full of peaks and valleys. One day you may be on the top of the world, and next you are struggling to find money so they do not close your organization down. Even if it does not work out within the first few years, do not give up.
Develop relationship with funders. Meeting them before you write a grant request can really help. If you do not get it this year, there is always a chance to receive the grant later.
The beginning of our organization was full of challenges as we had only contract staff. The founder had to take care of everything, struggling with inconsistent funding. Since Workman Arts combined both mental health and art, getting support was difficult because the organization operated in between those two areas. The potential for burnout was high; having more staff would have helped.
We are an independent organization with charitable status and have our own business registration.
Partnerships in the mental health and art communities are fundamental to our success since we strive to integrate these two and help in seamless transition from one to another. Over the years, we have developed an extensive network of community partners. Workman Arts has also developed relationships with its funders including Ontario Arts Council, Ontario Trillium Foundation, and Canada Council for the Arts.
An active Board of Directors with representation from the arts, finance and health care sectors support the staff of eight. Workman Arts has a close, long-standing partnership with The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Impacts & Outcomes Objectives
Workman Arts is currently developing our social return on investment metrics. It is easy to get testimonials but harder to quantify the impact. Once we have data, we will utilize the information in our communication materials to attract more support for the organization.
When we started in 1987, individuals with mental health problem were not seen as able to contribute to society and earn a living. It was always important for us to make sure the people we support have the same opportunities as everybody else. Workman Arts facilitates professional, income earning opportunities for member artists. In keeping with our core values and mandate, we strive to ensure that our artists are paid professional fees at rates which respect Canadian Artists’ Representation (CARFAC), Actor’s Equity, and Independent Media Arts Alliance’s scales.
We deliver over 60 training programs a year. Workman Arts offers high caliber training in media arts, literary arts, music, theatre, and visual arts delivered by artists and working arts professionals. These programs support member artists to reach their potential by honing their artistic skills and practice. Training programs are presented in a variety of formats and durations including: multi-week courses, workshop intensives, seminars and one-on-one mentoring. All training programs are free of charge to member artists.
Vision for the Future
Once finalized, we want our social return on investment metrics to become open source. Making it available will help other organizations in the nonprofit sector understand the process and demonstrate their impact to justify why people should support them.
Workman Arts plans to move back to CAMH in 2019 to develop The Creative Arts Healing Centre. We will occupy the space there, but remain an independent organization. One of our goals is to create a formal program delivered by senior artists to people receiving inpatient treatment in the hospital. Based on peer relationships and mutual understanding, the program will inspire hope for those who are not well, as well as provide income for our senior artists.
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