Katherine Earl is an artist, educator and business owner who spent 15 years growing with Art Starts. Starting with the organization at just 20 years old, Katherine transitioned from lead artist to program manager, and eventually Program Director. She witnessed the organization’s expansion from a small storefront to serving multiple communities city-wide and the many lives that changed as a result.
Art Starts is celebrating 30 years in October 2022 and as a way to commemorate our past and future, we’re spotlighting our top 30 supporters. From artists to community members, these features will look at their meaningful contributions to our organization and visions for the future.
What was your first experience with Art Starts?
I applied for a summer job with Art Starts when I was 20 years old and attending OCADU in 2000. This was when Art Starts was located in a small storefront on Oakwood Ave. We ran most of the programs in a little back room of our open concept office! Sometimes it would be so beautifully loud in that little space. I was new to community arts, but felt so akin to the meshing of art, inclusivity and community building. It was a different manifestation of artistic expression than I was seeing at my experience in art school and I found it so powerful. I stayed with Art Starts as a lead artist, program manager, and eventually as Program Director over the course of 15 years. I saw the organization through many expansive changes, and I witnessed entire communities transform because of the work we were doing.
How did this shape your perception of art and its impact on community?
When I came to Art Starts I didn’t know what community arts was, however, I knew in my own experience how the arts had a huge impact on my sense of self worth, my ability to heal and my own sense of personal pride. Art Starts allowed me to see these same shifts can occur on a community level. Over the years I literally saw lives change; people gaining the confidence to take big leaps in life because of our programs, young people finding their voices, children living in their most pure expression, isolated groups connecting through the creative process. I’ve seen how community arts shine a positive light on communities that don’t get much positive attention. I’ve seen how the arts have empowered individuals and whole communities to tell their stories.
Tell me about your favourite memory, program or experience with Art Starts?
There are literally too many memories at Art Starts! Aside from witnessing hundreds of magical moments within our programs, my favorite memories involve the people who came through as artists, coordinators, program managers, mentees and staff. I am so grateful for the experience of meeting, collaborating and problem solving with so many like-minded, talented, purpose driven individuals through my work at Art Starts.
What is the most impactful project you’ve worked on?
I was the Program Manager at Glendower for years when we began our work there. My favourite memory was the iteration of our first program where we helped youth in the community design, fundraise and coordinate their own music programming. It was the first time we put the members of our community in the drivers seat regarding program design and guided them with our expertise. I had the absolute pleasure of working with 6 youth, helping them research and conceptualize a program purely based on community needs, hire facilitators, apply for funding and eventually launch their very own music program. Empowering these young people to take the lead in conceptualizing, funding and designing their own programming was a humbling and incredible experience for me. This group managed to raise $65,000 to fund their program which ran consistently for 3 years. The impact of this program was amazing to witness for the youth who designed the program and also for the young community members who were participants. Everyone was so invested in the program’s ultimate success and it was a great source of community pride. Many of the youth went on to pursue music and the arts beyond the program.
What does community arts mean to you?
Community Arts means co-creating with others. When we co-create, we are communicating, we are agreeing and disagreeing, we are connecting. These conversations – combined with the creative process – allows us to evolve with each other, transcend barriers and ultimately create meaningful change.
How have you seen Art Starts evolve?
I saw Art Starts grow from a small storefront to a multi-site organization that continues to expand! My favorite part of Art Starts’ evolution in my time was when we made the firm decision to program sustainably in our communities, meaning we would focus on developing sustainable and deep relationships by offering ongoing programming at a few select communities rather than spreading ourselves thin across many communities.
How do you envision the future of Art Starts?
I see Art Starts forever growing and adapting to the needs of the communities it serves and expanding to work in many more communities in Toronto and beyond. I also see Art Starts’ model as one that can be replicated in other cities.
What advice would you give young artists starting out?
To find your authentic voice and create from that place. This is harder than it sounds!
How do you hope to make a difference in the world?
My time at Art Starts largely informs where I’ve continued my professional journey! After Art Starts I started a business called My Life Creative. I create arts based mindset tools to help build confident and resilient kids. I have a facilitator training program whereby I teach individuals how to generate income by teaching kids arts-based empowerment workshops. The difference I hope to make in the world includes empowering kids with tools to build self esteem, self awareness and self love so they can live and lead in the truest expression of themselves.
Make sure to follow us on Instagram @ArtStartsTO to follow our #ArtStarts30 campaign and see all the ways you can get involved.