Arts centre gung-ho to continue 40+ year legacy

By Winnie Czulinski –

At the Cabbagetown Communi­ty Arts Centre, 422 Parliament Street, afterschool time is pro­ductive, sometimes frustrating, passionate, and fun. The air is filled with piano scales, crash­ing drums, sonorous violins and the human voice in song.

Gleaming instruments await community youngsters. The walls are plastered with art­work, murals and a support greeting from Canadian sing­er-songwriter Serena Ryder. A little boy jokes about “building a ukulele out of Lego!”; another wants to play a left-handed gui­tar though he’s right-handed.

For more than 40 years the CCAC has offered after-school arts programs with one-on-one instruction for children from Regent Park, Moss Park and St. Jamestown, a densely-populat­ed area of rental housing with people from over 100 countries and 160 languages. The CCAC’s student-centred half-hour pro­grams for kids 4–18 years old follow the public school board’s semester schedule – and help keep the kids out of trouble.

The idea was to “create a school accessible to children of low-income families,” says ex­ecutive director Glen Loucks, a musician who has been with the CCAC since 2001. “That was our mission, always our focus.”

The centre was founded in 1979 by three local musicians: flutist David Blackmore, sax­ophonist Jim Heineman and drummer Tommy Oki. The board of directors includes sev­eral musicians.

The disadvantaged communi­ties it serves “are some of those that were hardest hit by the pan­demic,” says Loucks. “No one is turned away because of inabili­ty to pay,” he adds. “Our annual budget is under $200,000, and we have 150 kids.”

The centre offers instruction in instruments such as piano, guitar, violin and drums, as well as percussion, musical thea­tre and voice. (Learning social skills and boosting self-esteem are extras.) There also are pro­ductions of popular works like The Lion King, recitals, a rock/pop band to join, free Saturday afternoon arts and crafts, and group programs, including par­ticipating in community events.

After learning music funda­mentals, CCAC students might follow the prescribed Royal Conservatory curriculum or ex­plore their creativity in a freer way, with song-writing, improv­isation and collaboration with other students. It might even lead to a career in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra or a rock band. Or it may be just an enjoy­ment of music.

There are standouts; one child might learn in a week what it takes others months to do. A student who was seven years old when Loucks started work­ing with him is now going to university. “He’s a really good musician, playing jazz better than me. He wrote me a really beautiful letter (about what the CCAC gave him).”

In 2019 many instruments and equipment were stolen in a break-in, but a fundraising cam­paign and local residents soon replaced the items. However, earlier this year, a devastating chain of events nearly ended this cherished neighbourhood resource.

At the height of the pandemic, the centre reduced its teaching capacity, to minimize infection risk. Revenue fell, and several major funders, themselves financially strapped from the pandemic, bowed out. Replacing those donors has been a challenge. There’s a government loan to pay off, and $6,248 monthly commercial rent for the 2100-sq. ft Parliament St. building after a 10% rent hike. The heating and ventilation system recently was upgraded, resulting in higher energy costs.
A GoFundMe campaign aims to raise $25,000.
“This place is extremely important,” says Ekaterina Fadeeva, who has two sons (aged 10 and 5) enjoying the music program. “It’s like a family; we can reach out to any of these teachers if we need more (music) assistance and support.”
The Cabbagetown Community Arts Centre believes that confidence is built through focused practice, applicable to any path in life students choose. As an eye-catching piece of kid’s art on the wall at 422 Parliament says, “CCAC Rocks!”


Funding campaign:

Cabbagetown Community Arts Centre Recitals:
422 Parliament Street
Monday December 11 – 6pm-7pm
Thursday December 14 – 6pm-7pm
Friday December 15 – 6pm-7pm
Saturday December 16 – 6pm-7pm
Free, open to public.

Photos courtesy of Glen Loucks, CCAC exec director.