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Jini Stolk wins cultural award for promoting arts in Toronto

September 20th, 2012 · No Comments

The executive director of Creative Trust is keeping the arts alive in Toronto, one dance troupe at a time

By Haley Steinberg

Jini Stolk, a longtime Annex resident, was recently awarded the Toronto Arts Foundation’s William Kilbourn Award for the Celebration of Toronto’s Cultural Life. The work she has done to promote and sustain the arts city-wide is extensive and diverse.

When asked about her recent award, Stolk modestly replied, “Of course, it’s always wonderful to know that your work has been noticed and is being acknowledged by your peers.” In an industry where so many personal relationships are built, she said the experience of being recognized for her projects was “truly delightful.”

Stolk has managed numerous studios and arts groups, from the Toronto Dance Theatre to Open Studios. Currently, she serves as the co-founder and executive director of Creative Trust.

Creative Trust is an organization dedicated to building financial and foundational stability for mid-sized and small performing arts companies. The goal is to arm these companies with the skills necessary to succeed and thrive as collaborative arts initiatives.

The concept for Creative Trust, which is housed in the Annex’s Centre for Social Innovation (720 Bathurst St.), came about through Stolk’s own experiences with struggling performing arts companies.

“It really became clear to me, and to a number of my colleagues, that the mid-sized companies needed a bit of outside help to really flourish,” she said. “Some of us had deficits, and the thought of having help with retiring the deficits was absolutely joyful.”

Stolk also noticed that these companies did not have the capacities to develop and manage other aspects of the business single-handedly.

The organization now plays a major role in actively sustaining these companies by providing “financial health and organizational strength.”

“The work we did certainly involved raising money so that we could give grants to companies for deficit reduction,” Stolk said of Creative Trust’s broader efforts.

“Also, we focused a lot on group learning … bringing people together in sessions on fundraising, marketing and audience development.”

By hosting workshops, Stolk and her counterparts are able to pass on strategies and skills which allow these smaller companies to thrive independently.

According to Stolk, venue and audience development are extremely important when it comes to promoting the local arts. “Audience development encompasses better marketing, it encompasses the whole topic of engaging audiences … it encompasses diversifying audiences.” If the performing arts are to thrive in the city, “the real Toronto” must be accurately represented in the audiences.

Although this is a large task, Stolk believes that with the proper technology and arts awareness education, it can be accomplished.

A current project of Creative Trust is the rehabilitation of performing arts venues. “We are working very intensively with most of the companies that are located in the Annex,” said Stolk. This project has required meeting with these companies to find funding and to raise awareness of the need for renovation. Without an adequate venue, it is very difficult for performing arts companies to function efficiently.

Toronto’s Green Theatres project helped spur the rehabilitation program. It focuses on “making the performing arts spaces more energy efficient and environmentally friendly,” and will have a large impact on the Annex neighborhood, as it is home to several large venues. At the forefront of the initiative is the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria St.). The marquee, which previously featured incandescent bulbs, is now lit using LED bulbs. There is a projected 90 per cent reduction in energy use.

Stolk has learned some valuable lessons through her work with Creative Trust. “Collaboration works. People should not think of themselves as being in competition, but rather think of all the arts working together to create stronger interest in the arts.”

This innovative approach may be just what is needed to further stimulate Toronto’s performing arts scene, and to ensure the survival of the companies behind it.

Stolk is committed to promoting the importance of arts in the community. “It has the power to change your life, it has the power to change the way you think about yourself.” She sees the performing arts as “an outlet for creativity,” not only beneficial for the artists themselves, but for audience members as well.

Tags: Annex · Arts · General