Building Capacity

Creative Trust’s mandate was to improve the financial health and sustainability of some of Toronto’s most innovative and accomplished performing arts companies. It grew out of ARTS4CHANGE (a program designed to create positive change for and by arts professionals in Toronto, co-founded by Jane Marsland and Myles Warren) and was developed by Joan Bosworth, Mallory Gilbert, Claire Hopkinson and Jini Stolk, who formed the first steering committee. After completing a successful three-year drive to raise endowment funds, we began the Working Capital for the Arts program, which became a model for capacity building in the cultural sector – providing the tools, support, firm goals, access to breakthrough thinking, sharing and community collaboration that lead to fundamental change and improvement.

» Working Capital for the Arts

Creative Trust’s Working Capital for the Arts program made positive changes to the sustainability of Toronto’s creative mid-size music, theatre and dance companies from 2003 to 2012.

Working Capital for the Arts was a multi-year program to help 21 performing arts companies develop skills and achieve financial balance. Participating companies, whose annual revenues were between $400,000 and $4 million, were chosen based on their strong artistic achievements and community support.

Working Capital for the Arts combined funding to create financial stability; assistance to help participants improve the ways their organizations work; and seminars and workshops to develop management, fundraising, audience development and other skills.

Companies that met the program’s basic requirement of eliminating any accumulated deficit and breaking even every year afterwards, received

  • Deficit Reduction Matching Grants (of the 21 companies admitted to the program nine had accumulated deficits and were eligible for this type of funding), and
  • Working Capital Awards (to a cumulative total of 15% of annual revenues, payable over four years)

Each company was expected to work to make itself stronger and more sustainable with Creative Trust’s assistance and support. This included intensive individual sessions with Lead Associates, George Thorn and Nello McDaniel, whose framework for healthy organizations underpinned our work in this area, and Technical Assistance Director Jane Marsland. Creative Trust provided advice and coaching to each company as it developed an individual Work Plan setting out annual organizational goals.

One-on-one coaching and assistance was complemented with roundtables, workshops and seminars that addressed common needs for skills in board relations and governance; financial management; human relations; fundraising; audience development and marketing; and more. Participants became part of a learning network where experience, knowledge and skills were shared and developed.


Our results, which were evaluated annually, clearly support the impact of the program on our sector’s capacity and sustainability.

Of the 21 organizations who began this project, 17 achieved a break-even or surplus bottom line on their 2006 operations; seven had completely eliminated their accumulated deficits.

At the end of their 2008 fiscal years, companies in the program posted total working capital of $2.9 million, or 11.3% of combined 2004 revenues, a strong improvement over the opening 2004 negative total of $200,000. Combined total revenues had climbed to $29.1 million – an increase of 15.5% since the start of the Working Capital for the Arts program.

As of December 2010, 16 companies had successfully completed the Working Capital program. By the time the program drew to a close in October 2012, virtually all the companies were in financial balance and had a working capital reserve fund, making them significantly more financially and organizationally stable than before the program began.

» Outreach Program

The Outreach Program, begun in 2005, expanded the reach of Creative Trust’s activities to include over 30 small and culturally diverse companies.

Outreach companies were selected based on their artistic vitality, community impact, efforts to develop and stimulate a diverse, engaged audience, and capacity to build their organizational skills, strength and sustainability. They had annual budgets under $400,000 and operated with small staffs and limited resources: their artistic vitality far exceeded their underlying administrative support.

The Outreach Program provided support by

  • Facilitating the sharing of resources, encouraging partnerships and mentoring, and providing a framework for continuing co-operation
  • Providing assistance in articulating and making effective use of artistic missions through small, supportive peer roundtables
  • Providing workshops and seminars on planning, financial and board management and other topics
  • Assisting them to develop new audiences and revenues

Through a partnership with the Equity Office of the Canada Council for the Arts, clients of the Toronto Stand Firm Program (an initiative to support culturally diverse arts organizations) were active participants in the Outreach Program and all Creative Trust’s learning activities.

In 2008 we also opened up the Program to include Associate companies, mostly but not all from the performing arts, who were interested in attending Creative Trust workshops and seminars, participating in our Audiences Project, and sharing and collaborating with colleagues.

» Endowment Program

The Creative Trust collectively raised almost $710,000 for endowment purposes between November 1999 and March 2002, in its inaugural Endowment Campaign. The bulk of the fundraising was completed in the first year. With matching money from the Ontario Government’s Arts Endowment Fund Program, the 23 member companies received more than $1.4 million in endowment.

Endowment Campaign members represented a wide cross-section of arts disciplines, including theatre, opera, dance and music. They were located from Thunder Bay to St. Catherines, from Blyth to Gananoque, Ontario, although most were based in Toronto. Their operating budgets ranged from $100,000 to $3 million.

Each Creative Trust member received a significant contribution towards a permanent endowment fund, providing a degree of financial stability that the majority of companies had not before experienced. Companies accessed new donors, made contacts with funders, and raised their profile both individually and as a group. Even more importantly, Creative Trust engendered among its participants a renewed sense of community and faith in collaborative initiatives. The resulting energy and optimism had a major impact on how these companies chose to respond to the challenges they faced.

Each company’s endowment is held and administered by the Ontario Arts Council Foundation, where they will be invested in perpetuity.

Building Audiences

Creative Trust’s multi-faceted Audiences Project (2009-2012)  aimed to raise the level of understanding and practice by performing arts companies in Toronto of audience development and diversification, audience motivation and engagement, arts education, and access.

The Project’s Objectives were to:

  • Help companies develop the best and most appropriate systems, including data management and online resources, to maintain connections and communicate effectively with their audiences
  • Help companies share, understand and embrace the best practices in audience outreach, development and retention
  • Explore the role and impact of arts education activities on current and future audiences, and on contributing to the development of youth and society
  • Provide access to the performing arts by Deaf/hard of hearing and Blink/low vision audience members

Our intent was to focus on changing internal behaviours and ways of working, and provide a program of broad and measurable impact. We monitored the results and tracking the effectiveness of the Project, and documented and shared our findings widely.

The Audiences Project encompassed a number of more specific programs including:

» Engaging Audiences

The Engaging Audiences program was a two-year initiative to engage Creative Trust members in an in-depth approach to understanding community engagement and audience development.

The first phase of the program was a day-long seminar with Alan Brown of WoflBrown, who presented promising new audience engagement practices and research on audience preferences. Lynne Connor joined us on Skype to discuss her essay “In and Out of the Dark: A Theory of Audience Behavior from Sophocles to Spoken Word”, and, participants took part in roundtables on new or emerging engagement practices. The day ended with a facilitated brainstorming session devoted to conceptualizing new approaches to audience engagement.

The highlight of phase two was the Audience Engagement Survey – a comprehensive look at the audience engagement preferences of 20 Creative Trust, developed by Alan Brown with Research Associate Kelly Hill of Hill Strategies Research. Responses by 3,200 individuals provided in-depth information for each participating company, as well as an overview of Toronto audiences.

Phase three comprised audience interviewing workshops with Alan Brown and two days of intensive individual interviews with audience members. In the debriefing session following the interviews, organizations discussed what they learned about their audiences’ values and motivations and how they like to engage with art – and how they will apply these insights.

» Performing Arts Education Overview (PAEO)

The Performing Arts Education Overview, released in the Fall of 2011, provided clear and accurate data regarding the range, reach and impact of arts education programs and activities by arts organizations in Toronto. Creative Trust and the Professional Arts Organizations Network for Education (PAONE), with Hill Strategies Research, worked in partnership on this study, which is the first of its kind it Canada.

Through research, an on-line survey of 50 music, theatre and dance companies, and arts professional and stakeholder interviews, we created an understanding of best practices, increased knowledge of the extent and methods by which performing arts organizations contribute to arts education, and laid a foundation of support for companies to continue developing programs and activities that lead to successful community engagement.

The PAEO was intended to be a pilot project, developing information and methodologies that could be widely shared with arts organizations throughout Ontario and beyond.

The PAEO was made possible through support from the Ontario Ministry of Culture through their Cultural Strategic Investment Fund.

» The Sun Life Financial Performing Arts Access Program

The Sun Life Performing Arts Access Program 2010 – 2012
The Performing Arts Access Program (PAAP) was a two year initiative of Creative Trust and Picasso PRO, made possible by the generous sponsorship of Sun Life Financial, to help expand access to the performing arts through Audio Description (AD) for Blind /Low-Vision Audiences and ASL Interpretation for Deaf/Hard of Hearing audiences. The process was meant to assist theatre, dance and music companies to launch and integrate these services into their organizational cultures and programming.

Launch of Initiative – November 23, 2009
With attendance and participation from approximately 30 Creative Trust member companies, Board members and invited guests. Guest speakers from the Deaf/HOH and blind/LV communities. Press Release distributed widely to Creative Trust and Picasso PRO’s media and professional and community arts networks.

Describer Training: Outreach, Auditions, Training – February – March 2010
A Call for Trainees produced 40 responses within two weeks. Of these, 18 were auditioned and a special selection process yielded 8 Audio Description candidates, trained by specialist, Deb Lewis, founder of Arts Access Alliance California, with the assistance of Auditions Coordinator Caroline Hollway and under the guidance of Picasso PRO Manager Rose Jacobson. An Expert Audience Team is formed to guide the process on an ongoing basis: Wanda Fitzgerald and Durelle Harford McAllister
Audio Describers trained: Peter Cavell; Krista Dalby; Jane Field; Kat Germain; Kat Leonard; Elizabeth Saunders; Rebecca Singh; Aaron Talbot
Equipment research, purchase, and training: Purchase of audio description kit, handbook creation and orientation, training and try-out of equipment usage in a controlled environment; technical set-up, sound tests etc. at theatre

ASL/TI Interpreter Training
OASLI (Ontario Association of Sign Language Interpreters) – April 25, 2010
Roundtable for ASL Interpreters (OASLI members) on specifics of Theatrical Interpretation co-led by Rose Jacobson and Interpreting Advisor Joanna Bennett; ongoing relationship building

Theatrical Interpreters Workshop – January 14 – 15, 2012
Master Theatrical Interpreter Joanna Bennett crafts a seminal two day workshop for professional, emerging and student interpreters wishing to learn more and try out our approach – Integrated Theatrical Interpretation – where interpreters share the stage actively with the performers. The workshop uses a scene from our interpreted production of Montparnasse as its focal point. 18 interpreters attend.

Pilot Productions/Public Events Audio Description
Factory Theatre May – June 2010
Start of practicum process for new describers in cooperation with Factory Theatre during the rehearsals and run of Featuring Loretta. In-house test-described show without public audience.

Factory Theatre – November 2010
Audio Describers describe Bethune Imagined at Toronto’s Factory Theatre, followed by a reception for the audience.

Tarragon Theatre – March 2011
Audio Describers describe More Fine Girls a co-production of Tarragon Theatre and Theatre Columbus. Each performance is preceded by a dry run, audited rehearsals and many preparations. Attendance for performances above: approx. 300 per house; includes 20 Blind patrons and approx. 10 companions

Pilot Productions/Public Events ASL/ Theatrical Interpretation (TI)
TI is offered in integrated form, in which the interpreters are onstage with the actors.

Factory Theatre – March 2011
Two performances of Brothel at Factory Theatre, featuring 3 onstage interpreters: Mary Zaiser, Scott Garant and Cindy Muskat

Theatre Passe Muraille – March 2011
Two performances of Montparnasse, a Groundwater Theatre production in association with TPM. Our Project Advisor and Master Interpreter Joanna Bennett interpreted solo for Montparnasse.

Audience: Attendance for performances above: approx 300 per house; includes Deaf patrons/companions. Based on available tracking, 100+ new audience members are captured during Factory’s AD and ASL productions. TPM identifies 30 Deaf patrons for the two performances of Montparnasse. Headsets are booked to the maximum of 20 for each audio described show and patrons offer generous post-show feedback. Deaf Community Consultants Anita Harding and Mitchell LaFrance liaise with Deaf audiences and oversee post-show video feedback corner in the lobby after each interpreted performance.

Creative Trust Blog is a central portal to all Picasso PRO and PAAP Access information; see archived features posted by Rose Jacobson and Jini Stolk

Media Coverage & Links
We garner an excellent feature about our access program on the popular Torontoist blog

TACTV/AMI (Accessible Media Inc.) covers the inaugural AD performance at Factory Theatre and streams the story several times since January 2011

Podcast Interview: ENO (Enabling Not-for-profits Ontario) streams podcast interview with Rose Jacobson to ONN network in May 2011

Green Pear Review arts and culture periodical and blog

Slide show and notes from Interpreters workshop, January 2012

» Diversifying Audiences

Creative Trust hosted a keynote address by Donna Walker Kuhne of Walker International Communications, in partnership with Harbourfront Centre, and a hands-on workshop on Communicating and Building Bridges to Diverse Audiences.

In the fall of 2011 we offered additional roundtables and focused workshops with Donna Walker Kuhne, who analyzed challenges and provided strategies to guide member organizations toward relationships with diverse audiences that fully reflect the demographic make-up of Toronto and Canada.

Building Spaces

Creative Trust actively worked to help performing arts companies in Toronto create affordable, accessible, appealing and safe venues where they can thrive.

Creative Trust always understood that working capital is only one of the capital needs of performing arts organizations. Affordable, accessible, appealing and safe facilities and performing venues are also essential for the community to thrive. Many Creative Trust companies, enjoying a new level of financial health and organizational capacity, became ready to tackle the space issue: approximately 16 were planning or in the midst of repairs, renovations or expansion of their facilities. These were not optional projects; Toronto’s mid size and small performing arts spaces are in urgent need of attention.

Creative Trust helped these companies plan and carry out their projects successfully. We created a network – the Facilities Roundtable – for companies to share information, learn from each other and facilitate group learning on capital project planning, budgeting, fundraising and project management.

» Advocacy and Policy Change

One way we contributed to the success of our members’ capital fundraising was by advising government and funders of the specific needs and challenges of Toronto companies undertaking capital projects; and by researching and cultivating prospective new sources of revenue.

Creative Trust advocated for the rehabilitation of Toronto’s small and mid size performing arts venues to the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario, the Government of Canada, arms-length and individual funders and the media.

In June 2009, we collaborated on an Infrastructure Stimulus Fund Application with seven Toronto performing arts organizations with shovel ready capital and renovation projects. The total project costs were $16.7 million. While these applications were unsuccessful, they established the range and seriousness of the need, and stimulated new interest and assistance.

» Toronto’s Green Theatres

Toronto’s Green Theatres is a project that grew out of the Facilities Roundtable and is being continued by Jini Stolk and a steering committee.