AOE Arts Council boosted by grant from Trillium Foundation for grassroots creation

AOE Arts Council’s Neighbourhood Arts 150 project with Odyssey Theatre called Spreading Roots. Photo: Andrew Alexander.

The AOE Arts Council is basking in the glow of a major injection of provincial money that will help them continue an arts initiative in the neighbourhoods of the city.

The council received $348,600 from what is known as the Trillium Foundation’s Grow Investment Stream, money which is intended to help organizations “grow an existing, proven project.” In AOE’s case the project is called Neighbourhood Arts and it is an extension of a successful initiative undertaken during the sesquicentennial that invested in 12 art-making projects, from theatre pieces to murals to a book that recorded the memories of seniors that involved communities across the city.

“With the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, AOE Arts Council can continue to deliver services and initiatives that make a real difference in the lives of residents,” said Ottawa-Orléans MPP Marie-France Lalonde.

The council will take this cash and turn it into 12 more community artist-in-residence projects over the next three years, says executive director Victoria Steele. The council will be seeking more funds for the project which has an estimated pricetag of $502,150.

She says that past projects, such as Art Place and Neighbourhood Arts 150, demonstrate how the arts can be central to connecting communities and individuals. 

The province is making a $50 million investment in 145 non-profit initiatives, including the AOE Arts Council’s.

“Our organization has been involved in professional community arts for 20 years. We had a great opportunity, from 2014 to 2017, to take on a three year project called Art Place in which we did a multitude of residencies with a range of artists in different communities that had less access to the arts and more at risk and under-served populations across the city.

“I think it is fantastically transformative for communities,” she said for them to be working with artists to tell their own stories. The council also wants to give artists a chance to expand their skills and give them a sense they are making a contribution.

Victoria Steele, AOE Arts Council executive director.

That experience proved to be so powerful that the council decided to keep going, Steele added. Last year, the council funded 12 arts projects in 21 neighbourhoods with 50 different partners, from Carp to Cumberland to Greely with a focus on areas outside the downtown without a lot of access to the arts.

Now they want to carry on their growing practice of “community engaged arts” for at least three more years. “Our job is to help build the capacity of the arts sector in the Ottawa region,” Steele said. The success of these past projects has caught the attention of the Federation of Citizens’ Associations of Ottawa. who, Steele says, wants to know more about how the arts build stronger communities.

“For community groups to say, ‘We need this to be successful in our neighbourhoods’ is very exciting.”

The council knows these types of activities have something valuable to offer the community, Steele says.

The first step in the next phase will be to hire a project co-ordinator and then begin the process of picking the projects. Steele says the program will produce four projects each year.

The council loved the name Neighbourhood Arts so much they kept it. This time, however, the artist residencies will be longer, at six months, and go deeper than those in 2017, she said. The program will also create, Steele says, “a formal community-engaged arts network to develop skills in community-engaged arts by convening artists and cross-sector community partners at events, workshops and annual symposia.”

On March 23, the council will host a community-engaged arts symposium. For more information on that please see

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.