Arts school reaches 10-year milestone

Town Crier Online
November 11, 2003

Arts school reaches 10-year milestone
by Paul Hutchings

Lola Rasminsky is feeling very proud these days.

This year the Avenue Road School for the Arts, which she founded in her basement in 1979, reached its 10-year anniversary in its present form. Holding classes in such subjects as painting, sculpture, pottery, and drama, the three-storey house doesn’t look like a place where classes could be held — especially for 1,200 students.

“The fact that it’s not a large building is both our strength and weakness,” said Rasminsky.

“The advantage of having a smaller building is that it’s an intimate atmosphere, and the class sizes are small by design, but also by necessity.”

She said she would like to hold more classes, with more students, but it’s not possible just yet. When the school was first started, attracting students was a challenge, but by 1993 when they were ready to move into their current facility, they had 200 pupils.

The facility depends heavily on word of mouth these days to spread the word about what they have to offer. When kids and adults like what they see, they tell others. This is the reason Rasminsky says enrollment steadily increases each year. Students enjoy what they do within the walls of that old house, and the word has spread.

The word is getting around through the school’s new site on the Internet as well. Rasminsky says since going online, they’ve managed to attract students from as far away as Turkey, the United Kingdom and Japan.

The school’s charitable arm is expanding as well. The Arts for Children in Toronto program recently won an award from the Trillium Foundation for its community service. Rasminsky points out that the program is affiliated with the school, but remains separate. They bring students to the school on a scholarship who wouldn’t ordinarily have access to arts education. They currently have 65 scholarship children.

Camila Wong is one of those children. She is a 14-year-old student with a hearing disability who moved to Toronto from Peru with her parents. Although her family endured hardships, they made it a priority to find a creative outlet for their daughter. Through Arts for Children she now attends regular classes on a full scholarship.

The program also sends artists out into inner city schools, as well as social services organizations too, like an aboriginal head start, and a children’s mental health group, also an organization for immigrant mothers and kids.

“When children create something, they’re exercising choice, and when we exercise choice we feel better about ourselves, and feel more in control and find out who we are through the choices we make,” Rasminsky said.

“When children create work that they can look at they feel good about themselves. They don’t need other people to tell them they’re good, they can look at it and they know how terrific they are. I think it’s a way of children and adults discovering their own uniqueness, and discovering who they are.”

The art school has also seen success in the publishing front. Kidscan press released The Jumbo Book of Art, which was a book written and illustrated by some of the teachers in the school. It sold 5,000 copies within two months, and has won a Gold Award in the United States from the National Association of Parenting Publications of America.

“I feel very proud of what we’ve accomplished, but there’s always more to do. We all like working at the school because we see how happy it makes people. We all have a need for personal self expression, and I think people are realizing that.”