UrbanArts is a non-profit Community Arts Council focused on enhancing neighbourhoods by engaging youth in community development through the arts. Our mandate is to promote, engage and facilitate cultural and community development opportunities between artists, arts organizations and community members.

Our Story What We Do

History of Organization

UrbanArts (formerly Arts York) was established in 1988 as the Arts Council for the City of York. It was recognized that a large population of artists lived in the City of York and that the arts could have a positive impact on the many under-served, economically disadvantaged and diverse neighborhoods. In 1989, Arts York developed the City of York Arts Grants Program giving financial support to artists and arts organizations. In 1999, Arts York employed and trained youth in its first Graffiti Transformation Project and launched its first youth theatre project in 2000 in partnership with Burning Passions Theatre. Successful mural and theatre programs for youth are developed and renewed each year. In May 2002, Arts York, moved to an independent space and launched Y-Arts?, a storefront community arts centre in Weston. Youth theatre and mural artists filled the centre throughout the summer. In January 2003, Arts York changed its name to UrbanArts to better represent our membership in the newly amalgamated City of Toronto. UrbanArts became a registered charity (November 7, 2003) and obtained its first corporate sponsorship December 2004.

Accolades and Accomplishments

ASAP and SummerArts attract some of Toronto's best emerging and professional artists including Gary Beals, Robert Small, Scott Jackson. Many of our ASAP graduates have gone on to post-secondary education and employment/entrepreneurship in the arts and social services field, many others have been hired to run programs as UrbanArts or volunteer as mentors. Former Program Director, Trey Anthony has gone on stardom with her play and eventual TV series Da Kink in My Hair and a number of our former staff and participants have gone on to be published authors, graphic artists, signed recording artists and poets. UrbanArts Winter Expo, an ASAP spin-off showcases the artwork and performances of ASAP participants and those of other UrbanArts programs. In 2004, ASAP participants created a song 'What If' that was featured on CBC radio for two consecutive days. SummerArts participants have participated in the Caribana Festival. Many of our program videos are featured on YouTube.com and we maintain a very active Facebook page as part of our outreach strategy. We have developed many program partnerships and are in the process of developing a number of satellite services including the newly created Girls Mentoring Program at five local schools. Corporate partners include RBC, TELUS, Microsoft Canada and Renewed Computer Technology.

Our Programs How We Do It

Our City Our Stories - Powered by Canon Urban Photo Contest for youth 12-22 years, to document personal stories (project completed).

SummerArts - UrbanArts provides six weeks of summer programming serving more than 60 youth ages 8 through 29 and their families. Activities range from multidisciplinary arts workshops, to field trips, to intensive dancers' boot camp. 

DreamBuilding provides an artistic voice to every member of the Weston community and boasts a variety of successful community engagement initiatives that have welcomed the participation of hundreds of community members. It serves as a vehicle for us to hire more young people in the summer months. 

Beats.Mind.Movement – a beat production program aims to support at least 180 youth over a three year period to learn the basics of beat production, experience and practice musical forms.  and connect with the entire community.

Graffiti Transformation Program - UrbanArts hires youth artists in the summer and helps beautify the urban communities around central west Toronto through the design and painting of large-scale mural projects. 

After School Arts Program – a multidisciplinary arts programs (dance, theatre, music, visual arts, etc.) for youth ages 11 to 17.  The program runs from 3:30pm to 5:30 pm, Monday to Friday from October until May 

Brown Bricks Leadership Project - This program works with youth ages 15 – 20 residing in public housing at 710 and 720 Trethewey Dr. and offers programming and support with planning and hosting activities for their recreation space.

STEP UP - “Speech That Enlightens People Uplifts Places” a spoken word program for young poets 15-24 years.


After School Arts Program (ASAP) & SummerArts

ASAP is a multidisciplinary arts program for youth ages 11 to 17.  The program runs from 3:30pm to 5:30 pm, Monday to Friday from October until May and this year has attracted a a larger and much more diverse number of youth than we have seen in the past few years.  Program streams include music, drama/theatre, dance, literary, visual arts, and a girls mentoring group. The UrbanArts After School Arts Program continues to grow in popularity and quality.  We have garnered participation from a variety of students who represent every skill level and interest in the arts. The 2009/2010 school year has brought us a new and diverse set of participants from neighbouring schools including: Weston Collegiate, Portage Trail, C.R. Marchant, York Humber S.S., St. John the Evangelist Catholic, and Archbishop Romero Catholic School. ASAP program is taking on a new life of its own.  What started off as a program to provide young people with the opportunity to learn about the arts is now evolving into a program where young people have determined that they want to learn how the arts can be seen as a viable career choice.  Without compromising the original intent of the program, ASAP has been able to integrate some professional development within all aspects of programming. To continue its reach, UrbanArts provides full-time summer programming serving more than 60 youth and their families. Activities include multidisciplinary arts workshops, field trips, as well as professional development and intensive programs for older youth.

Funded by an anonymous donor, this summer-long programming adventure comprises three separate activities:

  • Dancer’s Boot Camp -This amazing evening workshop invites youth considering career opportunities in dance to learn what it takes to make it in the industry. The workshops cover topics such as bios, auditioning, casting agents, writing a professional resume and much more. Dancers work on a routine that is performed at our annual CultureShock Festival.
  • Community Arts Experience - Youth  use their artistic talents to entertain and affect the community under the direction of professional artists.  The group experiences the thrill of public performance and display in both performance and visual arts.  At the end of this program participants put on a publicly attended talent show. 
  • Arts Explore - Youth get acquainted with the many faces of the arts through fun activities and field trips. Arts Explore conducts daily workshops led by professional and emerging artists.  Young people benefit from exploring creative possibilities amongst like minded youth.

Funding and Program Partners

Toronto District School Board, Telus,

Program Impact

Impacts of the program are individual, organizational and community-wide. Program participants benefit through the attainment of skills, enhanced confidence and self esteem and having a safe place to go on a daily basis. Our community/city benefits through reduced criminal activity among youth and a richer more vibrant neighbourhood and social issues being effectively addressed. Our organization benefits through the trust we have developed among stakeholders and becoming a mainstay and relevant asset for the community.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"The incidence of crime in the region is lower than both provincial and national averages and continues to decline."

“More than half of all parents (56%) reported that of their children participate in sports and recreation activities outside school hours...

  • 41% of children regularly participate in extracurricular arts programs; more than one-third (36%) never had that opportunity.” (Toronto’s Vital Signs®)

Urban Arts’ After school programming takes place in Weston Mount Dennis – the neighbourhood dubbed the 'crime capital of Toronto' by the Globe & Mail due to high rates of crime and violence, most involving youth. Our programs provide a safe space for youth to participate in recreation and physical activity outside of school hours.

Participant Vignette

Coming to a new country and trying to fit in as a young person can be extremely challenging especially for pre-pubescent boys. At this age, young boys try to see where they stand in relation to girls, school and family. One of our participants seemed to struggle with this daily. While he was very smart and did well in his classes, our young participant didn’t seem to have the same kind of swagger of other young people. He was bullied a lot and was disrespected by a young girl he liked. Yet at UrbanArts, this youth has found his voice. Whether it was learning how to make music in the studio, learning how to break dance during the dance program or performing his favourite song ‘Waving Flag’ during our open mic sessions, he seemed to gain his confidence daily. He also contributed to a banner we have created in dedication to earthquake victims in Haiti. The experience has allowed him take more of a lead role within UrbanArts, and encourages him to replicate the same role at his school. Each day, this young participant is increasingly finding his place in society.


Beats.Mind.Movement (BMM)

Beats.Mind.Movement (BMM) is a music production program for at-risk youth that equips participants with the tools necessary for independent and collaborative musical expression, entrepreneurship, and continued learning. Over the course of 12 weekly sessions or an eight-week summer intensive youth engage with and learn from their community as artistic entrepreneurs either at our in-house studio or through our mobile units. The program helps youth to learn the basics of beat production, experience and practice musical forms from across the world and learn the basics of non-profit and organizational management.  BMM is designed to prepare dedicated, talented and hard-working youth to build their artistic and entrepreneurial abilities and core competencies to support their foray into the arts and music economic mainstream. Supported by a variety of high profile individuals from Toronto’s music scene, the program highlights key areas of capacity building, with a focus on creative, artistic, and business development that will lead to creating young people’s transition into music industry careers, professions and enterprises. Each Summer Intensive component culminates with the release of a CD or all original music, a CD release event and several live performances. 

Program Impact

Participation in the Beats.Mind.Movement Program provides an opportunity for youth to create and broadcast their artistic works, access public performance opportunities, positive media coverage, and artistic collaboration. Artistic barriers faced by young women and the misogynistic ideas that accompany them will be challenged, as female participants are encouraged to achieve excellence in music production. As well, youth will be equipped with requisite business, employment and life skills necessary to successfully launch a business or find pathways to related higher education. All this will see Toronto’s arts community including more voices from marginalized areas and adapting their perspective on popular urban art forms while gaining visibility, not for violence or scandal, but for the unique and creative community of musicians and artists that our youth represent.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

“Immigrant youth unemployment remains high, but some Toronto neighbourhoods show signs of progress:

  • Newcomers to Toronto have settled in large numbers in many of Toronto’s identified Priority Areas. 8 of these 13 neighbourhoods have greater than two-thirds visible minority populations (Malvern and Jamestown are more than 85% visible minority) and 11 of the 13 are home to a higher than average proportion of recent immigrants than the City average (which was 10.7% in 2006). Youth unemployment (which in 2006 stood at 16.6% for 15-24 year-olds in the City was 17.6% in the Priority Areas (a 3.1% increase in 5 years). In 5 Priority Areas, the increase in unemployment was less than the City’s average, and in 2 – Jane Finch (22% recent immigrants) and Kingston-Galloway – there was actually a slight drop in the unemployment rate.” (Toronto’s Vital Signs®)

Participant Vignette

Freddy is a 22 year old Nigerian youth who has recently completed the Beats.Mind.Movement Program. He has a passion for music and took advantage of the enriched curriculum and intensive training offered through the summer program. His consistent, relentless production of instrumentals for BMM meant that program participants were never left wanting for any new material to which they could write. As Freddy states, “having received mentorship from rising local talent including the recently signed duo Candy Coated Killahz (former BMM staff) and Oooh Baby Gimme Mores (one member is a former participant & summer staff), I have come to learn that professionalism and respect for the craft of music production are integral to success in the industry, all of which I was able to learn in the openly creative environment that is UrbanArts.” Freddy has recently completed his own music video now featured on YouTube and is now also a program assistant at UrbanArts teaching beat production to participants of the After School Arts Program.


Weston-Mount Dennis Youth Arts Hub

UrbanArts, in partnership with the City of Toronto, is developing a Youth Arts Hub to provide a unique space where youth living in the Weston-Mount Dennis Priority neighbourhood can develop their skills, confidence and capacities to realize their unlimited potential through dance, performing arts, mural arts, photography and digital arts. The hub will not only become the new home for UrbanArts' programming, but also home to the new Weston-Mount Dennis ProTech Media Centre, a media lab, program, and partnership between Microsoft Canada, Humber College, Renewed Computer Technology, UrbanArts and the City of Toronto specifically developed to engage youth in the digital media arts. ProTech is set up to engage young people, ages 12-24, through media arts. With the implementation of ProTech in Weston-Mount Dennis, youth will develop skills and capacities to gain further access to cost-free education, training and employment in media arts and allows UrbanArts to uniquely combine the arts with technology. ProTech is designed to actively include young people who are excluded from mainstream education, employment and community programs. We have tendered the call for and secured a design architect. Drawings have been completed for the space and we are in the process of seeking additional funds toward the renovation in time for our upcoming move in the winter of 2010/2011.

Program Impact

Weston-Mt. Dennis youth identified us as a preferred operator for the new Centre. Leveraging the future co-location of the UrbanArts and ProTech Media Centre to form the Youth Arts Hub, as well as strong relationships with the many community agencies connected with the initiative, the Hub will host arts and technology programming, training and engagement opportunities for local youth and their families. Such jointly developed programs and services will include: numeracy and literacy skill development, life skills and employment readiness, leadership and mentorship skills, and youth civic engagement. Several youth leaders from Weston-Mount Dennis have been fully engaged in the Hub's design, development and decision-making processes. The City of Toronto is also exploring the opportunity to include the Hub in its Youth Build Toronto Pilot, where local youth are trained and certified in building trades while working and contributing their skills to the renovation of the site.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

“Toronto adopted a Creative City Planning Framework in 2008, recognizing that cultural vitality is as important as economic development, social equity and environmental sustainability:

  • Cities alive with culture attract creative people. And people in creative occupations stimulate the creative economy (one based not on the production of goods and services so much as on the creation and transfer of intellectual property). The City of Toronto’s plan to build cultural capacity – growing the creative sectors, and supporting lively cultural expression at the neighbourhood level, is based on the conviction that creativity is the basis of a strong and prosperous City.” (Toronto’s Vital Signs®)

Participant Vignette

Colanthony is an emerging musician, artist and actor and a former UrbanArts participant and summer staff. Having being introduced to the world of music, Colanthony has gone beyond expectations. From making beats in his bedroom, Colanthony has gone on to perform his style of punk rock music in schools, at the Opera House, as the opening act for the AfroPunk tour, and performing at 102.1 The Edge as a finalist to be able to play at this summer's EdgeFest. As one of a two-member band, Colanthony and his partner normally create their own flyers, arrange photo shoots, and shooting and editing their own videos at various area facilities. ProTech at the Weston-Mount Dennis Youth Arts Hub, will offer them a one-stop shop to get all this done. ProTech will also allow Colanthony to broaden his marketing reach using his artwork to develop an online portfolio. Working with potential experienced staff at ProTech, Colanthony and other artists will access increased opportunities as they utilize the various software and equipment the Hub will offer. As well, Colanthony and his band-mate will be able to access additional resources within the Youth Arts Hub such our in-house music studio and connections to the music industry to further his career. Along with these supports, Colanthony knows he has had opportunities many other youth have not had and so is prepared to act as a mentor to support aspiring youth artists with developing their skills. As Colanthony has often said "UrbanArts is like home", now with ProTech and the Hub, the possibilities are endless.

What You Can Do

After School Arts Program (ASAP) & SummerArts

Activities a donation will support

A grant will support the delivery of multi-disciplinary arts activities such as dance, music, drama, visual arts, spoken word and young women’s leadership and mentoring for youth at the most crucial times – after school and during the summer months when they are most at risk of engaging in behaviours that are not in their best interests. As most of the parents work two or three jobs to make ends meet, they are not available to supervise their children after school and can’t often afford the high costs of traditional summer programs. Our after school and summer programs fill those voids.

Donation impact

Through the ASAP and SummerArts programs youth will continue to build self confidence and skills, engage in community development activities that support their embodiment of the arts as a viable career path, while having a safe and inviting space to do so.


Beats.Mind.Movement (BMM)

Activities a donation will support

Funds will support the delivery of music production workshops which include beat making, writing lyrics and vocals as well as workshops for youth to learn the business aspect of the industry (business operation, artist development, developing stage presence, photo shoots, portfolios and press kits, etc.) Youth will make use of our ProTech Media Centre to learn website and graphic design and use social media networks to promote themselves online. We will also provide links to industry professionals and resources and teach the entrepreneurial skills required for successful business operation.

Donation impact

Funds will support the artistic and entrepreneurial skills development of youth in an industry that transcends racial and socio-economic lines. Youth will learn music theory and practice, create original music and learn entrepreneurial skills to develop not just as artists but as business entities. Consequently, youth will be able to operate their own business, secure industry related employment or go on to further training or education toward achieving their life and career goals.

Weston-Mount Dennis Youth Arts Hub

Activities a donation will support

A grant will support the physical development of the space including the development of a teaching kitchen, dance studio and relocation of our music studio and multi-disciplinary arts programs such as music production, drama, dance, visual or media arts and spoken word that encourage youth to take positive steps in defining and implementing direction in their lives, gain skills and confidence, develop and accomplish personal goals for success. Activities will include Graphic & Website; Animation; Film and Photography; Microsoft applications; Numeracy and literacy skills; Life skills, employment readiness, Leadership and Mentorship Skills to support youth pursuing careers in the arts including graphic, literary or graffiti arts or creative advertising, create online art portfolios or parlay learning into employment, self-employment, or further studies at the post-secondary level.

Donation impact

The Weston-Mount Dennis Youth Arts Hub will allow UrbanArts to fully incorporate our dance, theatre and live music programming and performances, initiatives designed to stimulate and encourage contemporary works that are both interdisciplinary and collaborative. Moreover, a multi-purpose performing arts space would help in engaging young potential artists who might otherwise not have become involved in the arts, particularly as this will be the only such space for youth in the Weston-Mount Dennis community.


Marlene McKintosh
Executive Director
Charitable Number: 894382910RR0001

Finance & Governance

Annual Operating Budget: 
$ 479,988


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