When Kingston’s Grand Theatre faced demolition in the early 1960’s, a group of concerned citizens united people interested in the arts and determined that there was a need for an arts council. After assuming the leadership role in this endeavour, The Kingston Arts Council (KAC) was formed.
The mandate that became the heart of the organization in the sixties— to sponsor, encourage and foster excellence in the arts—still holds true today. An umbrella organization that represents all of the artists in Kingston and the surrounding regions , the KAC has been devoted to nurturing regional artists of all disciplines and skill levels, and advocating on their behalf for nearly half a century.
Operating with a small staff, dedicated volunteer board and committee members from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, the Council acts as an artistic hub, channelling information and ideas to (and from) the wider community. All of the programmes and services of the Kingston Arts Council are aimed at creating this vital, ongoing engagement between community members and the region’s arts and artists.
The KAC and its volunteers have been particularly successful in developing community partnerships. It worked closely with the City of Kingston to develop and implement its cultural policies, strengthening the voice of the arts through active planning, promotion and communication. The KAC was the driving force behind the establishment of the first Kingston Arts Board in 1982 and has always remained closely aligned with efforts to maintain arts support from the municipal government. One of the major operations of the Arts Council since 2007 has been the administration of the City of Kingston’s Arts Fund, a fund which distributes approximately $450,000 annually to eligible not-for-profit organizations. Numerous volunteers associated with the Arts Council worked behind the scenes for nearly a decade to help re-establish this critical funding source for arts activities.
The KAC was also given the honour of administering the Nan Yeoman’s Award for Artistic Development, an award to help young artists further their professional artistic growth through focused training and guided creation which has a monetary value of $2500.
The KAC currently has two main internal projects: The Juried Art Salon and Arts Guide. The Kingston Arts Council’s annual Juried Art Salon enables member artists from the region to enter up to two pieces in any medium and have their work judged by two professional artists. The winners and finalists are exhibited at the Wilson Room of the Kingston Public Library during the month of May. The Arts Guide (previously the Fine Craft and Art Guide) promotes the best of Kingston region's artisans, artists, and theatrical talent.
Selected KAC Landmarks
GENERAL STRUCTURE AND OPERATIONS
The Kingston Arts Council adopted its constitution in January, 1962 after a group of concerned citizens united a large group of people interested in the arts to save the Grand Theatre from demolition. The KAC was incorporated on February 18th, 1963, making it the oldest arts council in Ontario.
The Council was able to hire its first executive director in 2003 with the assistance of a major grant from the Trillium Foundation. The current Executive Director, Karen Dolan, started July 2011. Currently there are five part-time staff members. In 2008 the Kingston Arts Council moved to its current office (next to Lonestar Restaurant) at 253 Ontario Street. Past office homes for KAC have included space on Brock Street, in the KEDCO offices, on Sydenham Street, on Wellington Street, and at the Wellington Street Theatre.
The KAC has been successful in shaping arts policies in Kingston and the regional townships. It was the driving force behind the establishment of the Kingston Arts Board in 1982, which was formerly a committee of the Kingston City Council that advised on arts policy and was responsible for assigning municipal grants to artists and arts organizations in the community. In 1992, City budget tightening almost slashed funding for the arts to zero, but an urgent call to the KAC membership managed to rally a full house at the city budget meeting. A presentation was made in support of the arts that produced figures on the economic contribution of the arts to the City as well as the overall quality of life. The City decided against cutting funds to the arts and instead froze the amount allocated to them at the 1991 value of $131, 498. Unfortunately, the City of Kingston disbanded the arts board in 1994, and reduced its arts funding significantly. After arts-specific funding was completely removed as a programme of the City in the late 90’s, members of the KAC and concerned citizens began strategizing and lobbying for its restoration, a project which lasted over a decade. People who participated significantly included Jan Allen, Jocelyn Purdie, Gjen Snider, Jim Coles, Margaret Hughes, Glen Fast, Michael McLaughlin, Mary-Anne Higgs, Alan Grant, Marcia Shannon, and Julian Brown. Funding was restored by the City in the form of the City of Kingston Arts Fund (CKAF) in 2007. In 2008-9 the KAC initiated local participation in ArtsVest, a Business for the Arts - Ontario Arts Foundation programme, which resulted in $105,000 being distributed to Kingston arts groups through partnerships with businesses. In conjunction with other concerned citizens such as the former Friends of the Tett and the Canadian Federation of University Women Kingston, The Advocacy Committee of the KAC has organized well-attended public all-candidates meetings during the 2003 and 2006 municipal election campaigns. The Committee will be organizing the same type of events for the municipal election in 2010.
SHOWCASE EVENTS/PROMOTION OF EXCELLENCE IN THE ARTS
Between 1979-2001, The KAC presented The Kingston Literary Awards, a blind-juried short story competition, was held in cooperation with Kingston This Week, which published the finalists. Readings of the finalists were also showcased at the Wilson Room. In the 1990’s.the Arts Council hosted a holiday artisans’ showcase & fundraiser event, Baubles and Bubbles, that took place at the Marine Museum. In 1989, “Have an Affair with the Arts” debuted at the Grand theatre—a one day showcase event at the beginning of the fall arts season that featured a variety of local arts organizations and their activities. This extremely well-attended event lasted for many years, and inspired the annual showcase of youth activities now held at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour.
Between 1998-2000, the KAC was a primary partner with the DBIA and City of Kingston in First Night In Kingston, a family-oriented festival of the arts on New Year’s Eve, originally designed to celebrate amalgamation, that attracted thousands of people of all ages to the downtown core. The evening transformed into Cool Night,and served as a model for future collaborations between the arts community and other community sectors. In 2003, The Kingston Arts Council’s annual Members Open Arts Salon became the Juried Art Salon, enabling member artists from the region to have their work judged by two professional artists, with finalists displayed in a month-long exhibition. In 2004 ,The Kingston Arts Council Awards for Excellence in the Arts featured awards of excellence in Music, Literature, Performing Arts, Visual Arts and Design, Cultural Contributions, Support and Innovation, and Youth awards. Between 2003 and 2004, the KAC supported arts related initiatives such as the Twelfth Night Studio Tour, which offered members the opportunity to showcase their work, and The Upstairs Gallery—an exhibition space that featured a rotating schedule of artists. Between 2004-7, the KAC partnered with the Kingston Lung Association’s Garden Festival, a community event that included an art show and a student art contest the following year. In 2007, five-hundred elementary school students participated and ninety pieces of the best artwork were exhibited during the festival. Professional artists were also able to showcase their work. Over 6000 people attended the event, allowing the council to introduce a new range of people to the arts. Founded in 2004 by Julian and Kaaren Brown, The Kingston Prize is a biennial contemporary portrait contest that was inspired by the Archibald Prize in Sydney Australia (1921). Funding from the W. Garfield Weston Foundation provides a $10 000 prize.
COMMUNITY INFORMATION/PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
In 1987, the KAC first published a members’ newsletter called Arts Letter, a bi-monthly publication that featured articles on the KRAC members, art issues, a list of new members, notices, and a membership solicitation form. It was renamed ArtBuzz at the end of the 90’s. KRAC also instituted Arts Events— a bi-monthly arts calendar that became a full-page feature in the Kingston Whig-Standard Magazine and was distributed to members, government, businesses and media. In 2003 the KAC began its first website, along with the electronic version of ArtBuzz—a bi-monthly electronic news bulletin . Current communications services include calls to artists and performers, a daily online blog and Twitter feeds. In 2007, the KAC received a grant from the Healthy Community Fund to do a feasibility study of a new website that would permit the council to act as the major arts information source for the region. The new Interactive Arts Portal, a comprehensive arts website, has since received support from the City of Kingston Healthy Community Fund and Community Foundation of Kingston, launched in September, 2010. The KAC presents regular workshops and lectures from professionals to address both specific and general areas of interest . Workshop leaders/speakers have included Diane Schoemperlen, Helen Humphreys, Don Stinson, Janice Vandijk, and the Canadian Conference of the Arts.
In the fall and winter of 2003, the KAC established a partnership with the Industry Education Council’s Youth Team Initiative to develop various projects. They included a series of professional development workshops to address the business needs of established and emerging artists; investigating the development of a Youth Arts Council, and carry out the cataloguing of local visual artist Tom Cummings’ (1904-1996) work so that a large collection could be preserved and accessible to future generations. (In October, 2004, Mr. Cummings work was put on exhibit as a final part of this initiative. ) In November 2003, the Council, in partnership with the Healthy Community Fund, sponsored Kingston InSight, (KISS) a community arts project aimed at developing cross cultural and aesthetic awareness. The Kiss Project hired ten Kingston area artists to work in creative collaboration with ten community groups. Single use cameras were distributed to members of participating community groups who then used them to make photographic images representing their communities. The artists then worked as mentors to the communities to help them transform the photos into a wide variety of artistic presentations that were subsequently put on display at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre and eventually archived at Queen’s University. The KAC also partnered with the Human Resources Development Canada Job Creation Partnership Program to plan Welcoming Diversity—a project that surveyed the needs of underserved sectors of the population, especially those of immigrant artists. The project was dedicated to developing a view of Kingston’s cultural identity as a dynamic force with an ever changing set of strengths and looked at innovative ways to enhance social cohesion and the sharing of Kinston’s resources. In 2003, the council also sponsored a project called Birch Bark and Wild Rice, which brought youth from diverse backgrounds together to learn about native customs and beliefs while building a traditional birch bark canoe at the MacLachlan Woodworking Museum in Kingston. The KAC felt that providing aboriginal and non-aboriginal youth with an opportunity to learn traditional customs would be an excellent step in ensuring that these practices were preserved.
COMMUNITY NEEDS CONSULATIONS
In 2002, as a result of a major Trillium grant, the Arts Council was able to have staffing and connect more with the greater community. The Kingston Cultural Initiative in 2002 was one of the results of this project, which resulted in people such as Richard Florida coming to Kingston to speak. KAC also consulted with the City of Kingston and its Cultural Initiative to create the Festival and Events Network (FENK). In 2004, Time for Change, a cultural spaces needs assessment study was conducted on behalf of the KRAC to determine whether the community lacked adequate and sufficient facilities to house arts service organizations and other cultural groups. The project was funded by the Summer Experience Program (Ontario Ministry of Culture) and became part of the KRAC’s effort towards providing artists and cultural stakeholders in Kingston with the information and services they needed to maximize their potential and realize their goals. In 2007, the Arts Council hosted a major event, the Ontario Conference on Regional Development for the Arts. This conference featured roundtable discussions that emphasized the economic impact of the arts and underscored the critical need for connection between the arts and business communities. In 2009/2010 the Arts Council received a grant for a community outreach project that hired two consultants to engage with artists and arts organizations from all disciplines. The project helped inform the underserved sectors about current and potential Council activities and solicited feedback to drive future activities.