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ArtWorksTO: unique collaborative program recognized with national award

A photo of 16 students who graduated from the ArtWorksTO program's first cohort.

Image: Participants from the first cohort of the ArtWorksTO program celebrate during their virtual graduation ceremony.

ArtWorksTO: unique collaborative program recognized with national award

ArtWorksTO supports young people from historically under-represented groups to kickstart their careers in the media arts industries. And now the program has won the 2022 Canadian Association of University Continuing Education (CAUCE) Program Award.

“ArtWorksTO is a unique collaboration that provides opportunities for young media artists to gain professional experience and skills while earning a certificate and receiving guidance from industry professionals,” explains Evan Tapper, Director of the University’s School of Continuing Studies.

The CAUCE Program Award recognizes excellence in university continuing education programs in Canada and nurtures scholarship inherent in the program development process. OCAD U shares the award in the category of Non-credit Programming over 48 hours with Athabasca University.

“We are so pleased that ArtWorksTO has gained national attention through this award,” Tapper says.

The program’s additional partners include the City of Toronto, Toronto Arts Foundation’s Neighbourhood Arts Network and The Remix Project. Now in its second year, the initiative is supported by an investment of more than $1 million from the Future Skills Centre, a non-profit organization dedicated to upskilling Canadians in an evolving labour market.

The goal of ArtWorksTO is to improve access to the media arts industries for young creatives, particularly those facing barriers to employment. It is geared towards Black, Indigenous and People of Colour and/or 2SLGBTQ+ youth, between the ages of 18 and 29, who have some experience, either self-taught or formal trained, who are keen to work as videographers, animators, graphic designers, illustrators, website designers or photographers.

“What makes this program unique is that we provide these young media artists with the building blocks to be successful in their chosen career,” says Tapper.

“They gain real-world experience while working on a paid project and have opportunities to learn about the entrepreneurial aspects of building a professional career in the media arts,” he adds.

Lianne Rañopa, a graphic designer and graduate of the ArtWorksTO program notes, "Being a newcomer to Canada, I found that even though I had technical graphic design skills, I still had difficulty finding work experience related to my field. The ArtWorksTO program gave me my first graphic design contract. Gaining this experience has led to other freelance work."

Young media artists interested in ArtWorksTO participate in free online Portfolio Development Workshops offered in the summer. These customized workshops, delivered by OCAD U’s Admissions & Recruitment office, allow applicants to learn new skills in a format that works best for them, including artist talks and one-on-one portfolio review appointments. In 2021, 213 interested creatives participated in these sessions.

Program offers learning opportunities through certificate course and paid contracts

Following these workshops, participants apply to one of the program’s two streams, Next or Foundations. Successful applicants receive a paid contract of $4,000 to complete a creative project with an ArtWorksTO partner organization.

A selection committee matches participants to projects, which have included photography, illustration, video production, motion graphics, animations and website development. In 2021, 10 youth were selected for the Foundations stream and 25 youth were selected into the Next stream.

Participants in the Next stream complete an Art and Design Professional Skills Certificate, delivered by OCAD U’s School of Continuing Studies. Course fees are waived for participants.

The first course in the certificate, Professional Practice for Emerging Artists and Designers, is a six-week exploration of how to build a professional creative career and is designed specifically for ArtWorksTO participants. Students learn entrepreneurial skills like how to build a personal brand, social media marketing, networking, professional writing, negotiating contracts, pricing, resolving intellectual property issues and accessing employment opportunities.

Next stream participants then choose four electives from courses in art, design, media and business skills to complete the certificate. For each course, participants receive a stipend of $200 to assist with costs for hardware, software, child care or travel, that may present a barrier to learning.

Participants are mentored by industry professionals

While working on their paid contracts students in both program streams are mentored by industry advisors selected by The Remix Project, a Toronto-based organization, training facility and collaborative workspace dedicated to levelling the playing field for youth pursuing careers in arts and entertainment.

Mentorship includes networking opportunities through master classes, workshops and panels. Next stream participants also receive wrap-around support such as technical advice and feedback on paid contract projects, assistance with career goals, training and wellness.

“The mentorship program was incredible. Having a mentor teach you specific skills, share firsthand experiences, and take the time to understand your journey was priceless,” says Rañopa. “This program helped me realize my potential and that I can be proud of the work I’ve made,” she reflects.

In recognition of the importance of community and the challenges surrounding networking and collaboration, especially during the pandemic, all ArtWorksTO participants have had access to an online co-working space facilitated by OCAD U, The Remix Project and the Neighbourhood Arts Network. This virtual network hosts check-ins, posts information about opportunities and has become an invaluable resource for participants to stay connected.

“ArtWorksTO is an excellent example of how OCAD U’s School of Continuing Studies has adapted and evolved to meet the needs of the community,” says Tapper. “Based on the feedback from participants and partners, we increased the diversity of instructors and guest speakers, enhanced academic advising and support for students and provided greater flexibility in curriculum delivery.”