The Durham West Arts Centre is a ‘hub’ organization working to establish links with artists, arts groups and arts lovers. We want to meet and talk to the groups and individuals who are willing to help build the infrastructure for a permanent arts centre in Ajax-Pickering.


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Jaidyn Froats

Dr. David Green

Ennio and Diane Paola

Gary Faulkner and David GreenJaidyn Froats

Even the weatherman participated in our "Friendship Garden" planting day by providing some much needed rain for the new garden shortly after the work was done. Thanks to our gardeners and plant donors.

Gardeners from top left: Jaidyn Froats, Dr. David Green,
Second row: Ennio and Diane Paola; Gary Faulkner and David Green
Third row: Jaiden Froats and New building after Photoshop.

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The Durham West Arts Centre is a charitable organization incorporated in August 2003. We opened as an arts centre in Pickering Village, Town of Ajax, on April 2, 2004.

Backgrounder Part III

The Durham West Arts Centre: Struggle for Existence

Parts I outlined 20 years of arts advocacy leading up to the April 2004 opening of DWAC; Part II featured the steps that gave DWAC visibility and credibility.

As DWAC advances once again to municipal councils for support, it faces many challenges, the largest being COMMUNICATIONS. DWAC is on its second Business Plan in two years, raised or leveraged $340,000 of support for a two year pilot, has provided excellent value for municipal funding dollars by providing arts programs for 70,000 individuals and has the facilities project well in hand. "Rumours persist that we have no Business Plan, that we don't have a clear vision of the Facilities Project and that we can't fundraise. It's all untrue. We're on our second Business Plan. We undertook a year long study of what artists and arts groups wanted in a performing arts centre and we have draft architectural drawings that show that vision. We've also raised or leveraged $90,000 in support above the original $250,000 in grants we were able to obtain. For an organization that’s a mere 19 months old, that's remarkable", says Executive Director Littlefield.

"The real Communications Challenge", continues Ms Littlefield, "involves the community. Arts supporters need to know the above facts and then go to the Councils, phone, e-mail and write the Mayors and Councillors to make visible and credible to the elected officials that the citizens support the arts as a core value. The arts programs that exist are simply not enough to service a community of this size."

To emphasize the cost-effectiveness of maintaining the Durham West Arts Centre as a transitional arts centre on the way towards the vision, vice-chair Tom Reed held up a loonie at Ajax Council. The $90,000 being requested of each municipality represents roughly one dollar per capita. Put into context, another core value, libraries, costs on average $40 per capita. "There is a lot of value-added to the community for that loonie, not the least of which is the potential it provides for DWAC to obtain grants towards the Facilities Project," adds Ms Littlefield. "Plus, there are the huge economic benefits that flow to the Ajax-Pickering area with a performing arts centre on the borders of the GTA. Our Economic Impact Study showed that the multi-million dollar arts economy leaks out of Durham Region due to a lack of adequate facilities. We intend to: Stop the Leakage!"

March 31, 2006 the arts advocacy of 20 years, culminating in DWAC's efforts, will end unless there is adequate municipal support. Mrs Littlefield concludes, "It will be children, youth, local artists, and cultural groups that first feel DWAC's absence, but, it is the ordinary taxpayer who loses out in the long run as the planning for an economic attractor and tourist destination fades away. A great many arts advocates have given much time and effort; we hope to advance the arts cause in their names."

The Durham West Arts Centre: Visibility and Credibility

Part I reviewed 20 years of arts advocacy that underpinned the Durham West Art Centre's two year pilot project to grow support for a permanent performing arts centre for Durham West.

Nov. 28th before Ajax Council, vice-chair Tom Reed, described DWAC as a “baby organization”. At 19 months of age the “baby” had proven powerful. When the doors to the transitional arts centre opened at 72B Old Kingston Road, Pickering Village, Town of Ajax, April 2, 2004, the Constitution, Board of Directors and Executive Director were in place. Angie Littlefield, the new Executive Director and volunteers soon filled the bare rooms with furniture, installed all the necessary services, mounted art shows and began programs. “Setting up infrastructure was a daunting process as we were starting with nothing”, says Angie, “April Polak, current PineRidge Arts Council President and I started running Jan. 1, 2004 and we’ve never stopped.” Fundraising started immediately as within a short time period Franklin the Turtle illustrator Brenda Clark had agreed to display 70 original drawings. In spite of the creative coup that led to the hugely successful exhibition seen by thousands and involving the Franklin Community Readathon that reached 9,000 school children in Durham Region schools, funds were not forthcoming. “Organizations wanted a track record. When we did Franklin, we were 5 months old. We were an arts centre without a history.” Even Charitable Status which arrived Sept. 2004 did not make a great dint in the fundraising challenge. “Luckily we had excellent support from the News Advertiser and our programs which featured literary artists, local artists, youth and diversity grew in community support. Enviromonsters was seen by over 5,000 people at the Pickering Town Centre, over 40 artists attended our Visual Arts Seminar, Common Threads: A Show of Diversity was seen by school tours. DWAC had another early opportunity to raise visibility and to establish credibility. The Ontario Association of Arts Galleries in partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario was mounting a province-wide exhibition in celebration of the 85 th anniversary of the first showing of the Group of Seven for spring 2005. The intrepid five month old DWAC ventured forth to Toronto with the knowledge that Tom Thomson had lived in Durham Region for 2 months. Out of that shred, and after much research and gruelling facilities upgrades, The Thomsons of Durham was born. “We accomplished the impossible: we brought three original Tom Thomsons to Pickering Village, published a book on the 40 year history of Thomson’s family in Durham, ran an elegant soiree in Tom Thomson’s birthplace in Claremont, received accolades from the professional arts world and finally started the flow of fundraising dollars”, says Mrs Littlefield. As of Sept. 2005, DWAC was credible and visible.

Durham West Arts Centre: A long history of arts advocacy

Dec. 19 th at 7:30 p.m. the Durham West Arts Centre leads a delegation of arts advocates to the City of Pickering Council . Dr. Gary Polonsky, of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, and David Sinclair, Chair of the Hospital Board of the Rouge Valley Health System, frame DWAC’s presentation. DWAC underpins its vision to create a permanent regional performing arts centre using its second Business Plan, a year long Economic Impact Study of the Arts which resulted in draft architectural drawings and two years of extraordinary programming that reached 70,000 people directly and 300,000 through its website. They will ask Pickering for the same $90,000 for stability in staffing as they asked of Ajax Nov. 28 th—stability that will allow them to continue programs, mount a Capital Fundraising Campaign and apply for substantial grants to advance the Facilities Project they have well in hand. As Cathy Schnippering, PineRidge Arts Council Past-President says, “DWAC has come further than any other arts organization over the years towards making the vision of an arts centre real”.

Back in the late 1980s Andrea Graham, president of the forerunner of the PineRidge Arts Council, led a stalwart arts delegation to Pickering Council. They were not alone. Over the years other citizens went forward to Ajax and Pickering Councils in support of the arts. Although both municipalities were supportive of arts initiatives, and continue to be, they remain the only municipalities of their size in Ontario without an art gallery or centre. The arts, although appreciated, are not recognized as a core value with dedicated facilities in the same way as libraries, sports, recreation and seniors activities.

In Aug. 2003, a cross section of individuals, including artists, business people, politicians and individuals from many walks of life, incorporated the Durham West Arts Centre as a not-for-profit organization. The Pine Ridge Arts Council was right there providing seed money for its first initiatives. RCA sculptor Edward Falkenberg, Judge David Stone and historian John Sabean placed their names on the Letters Patent, but, behind them was a support group of individuals who had met for years nurturing the vision of a permanent performing arts centre.

In July 2004 as the momentum mounted to return again to municipal councils for money towards a pilot project with a transitional Centre, retired educator Angie Littlefield entered the scene. With extensive experience in grant writing, Angie mustered a powerful Trillium Collaborative application that included as partners the Durham District School Board, the PineRidge Arts Council, The City of Pickering and the Town of Ajax. The application which went in Aug. 2004 was approved for $150,000 over 2 years shortly before Christmas 2004. When DWAC approached both Councils with a Business Plan in hand, they followed suit with $50,000 over two years. DWAC was on its way!

Please buy a Centre membership as a show of support and send your letters of support to go on our 'Members Say' web page.

The Durham West Arts Centre is funded as a two year pilot by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Town of Ajax and the City of Pickering. Additional partners in the Trillium Collaborative are the PineRidge Arts Council, the Rotary Club of Pickering and the Durham District School Board.

Photography by Mary Cook

The Durham West Arts Centre exists to create, manage, and operate a centre for the advancement and promotion of artistic disciplines, and related activities throughout the community, for the benefit of the residents of the Regional Municipality of Durham, and the Province of Ontario.

Durham West Arts Centre