The Artists' Network is a non-profit arts organization that was incorporated September 15, 2004.
In the years since its incorporation the Artists’ Network has not only successfully maintained the operation of the Riverdale Art Walk (RAW) from which this organization was formed, but has also managed and developed the operations of Hangman, the gallery for the Artists' Network, the Little Art Show, and a membership base of over 200 member artists, and continues to grow as a viable arts organization.
In 1999 by few local artists lead by Stan Jones organized an informal studio tour that eventually grew into the Riverdale Art Walk featuring over 100 artists in the South Riverdale area, and then evolved into the Artists’ Network. The walk was organized by these few artists who came together and formed the nucleus of a network of artists in the south-east Toronto area. The Riverdale Art Walk [RAW] was a community based initiative which tied together retails spaces, community organizations and Artists’ studios in the area to feature artists and their work. Fostered and supported by the Riverdale Community Development Corporation [RCDC], RAW grew rapidly and brought together professional artists who formed associations that constituted a year-round network of support and communications. It is from this that the Artists' Network was created.
In 2001, it became clear that additional funding was required to ensure the successful organization of the RAW. In the fall of that year the Little Art Show [LAS] was born. Carolyn McGill and Rick Wright directed the evolution of the LAS for the next five years. Artists donated a piece, 7" x 9", for silent auction with proceeds contributing to the ongoing work of the Network, including RAW. Initially held at the Eastern Front Gallery, it moved to the BMW building on Sunlight Blvd., and then in 2008 to the current location of the Mercedes Benz Building on Dundas Street. The LAS has evolved to be a premier event on the Toronto arts scene.
Many of the initial artists, who were involved in the RAW, formed Eastern Front Gallery that was initially located on Dundas Street East, between Logan and Carlaw, and then moved to Queen Street East. EFG was an artist co-operative or artist run centre that had a membership from 8 to twenty artists. EFG was eventually considered a sister gallery of the Artists’ Network. Sadly EFG closed its doors in 2008.
However, it became clear the LAS would not generate ample funds to support the AN's or RAW's annual budget. Under the direction of the RCDC, a small group of individuals wrote and obtained an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant to launch a non-profit arts organization with a mandate to:
- Strive to meet the needs of professional artists as entrepreneurs,
- To grow an educated and eager collector base, and
- Establish South Riverdale as an arts destination.
The three-year Trillium grant allowed for the establishment of the Artists' Network (of Riverdale) and financially assisted in its operations from April 1, 2003 to April 1, 2006. Obtaining the Trillium grant allowed the organization to recruit a volunteer board of directors who initiated the process of incorporation, developed by-laws, reformed the original mandate, hired March Gregoroff as the first Executive Director, and established relationships with other groups. With this infrastructure in place the AN was in a position to recruit further membership and find premises.
In May of 2004 the Artists’ Network moved into the premises we currently occupy at 756 Queen Street East. Russell Brohier was brought on board as the founding director of Hangman, the gallery of the AN. A programming committee was established which determines themes for group shows, juries all submissions to exhibit, and oversees the gallery. Through the efforts of a volunteer Director, the gallery had several very successful open calls to artists, of note "Do Hands Make Us Human" which received over 70 submissions from across the country. There are two annual members' shows, and eight to ten exhibitions. As part of the programming for Hangman, it is the venue for the Rosedale Heights School of the Arts Contact Festival exhibition, and the venue for Centennial College student shows.
In the fall of 2005, the Network had their first Annual General Meeting and elected its first representative Board of Directors. The Board of Directors has become a pivotal part of the organization. Comprised mainly of member artists, the board advocates for the needs of artists and the arts community, takes responsibility for the direction of the organization, and its fiscal viability. In the past, the Board has managed to strengthen accounting practices for the Network, give direction to the programming of the organization, and represent the interests of the arts community.
After the departure of March Gregoroff as Executive Director in February 2009, the Board held the first Town Hall in April of that year to survey the membership and stakeholders of the AN. Several initiatives were determined from this event: Regular bulletins, consistency in seminars, a developed website and increased accountability. The board then asked Russell Brohier, who left in 2008 to return as Executive Director as of June 2009.
By September of 2009, regular monthly bulletins were being sent to the membership, a Networking Committee was formed to oversee the seminars and curriculum of the AN education programs, and a new website was on the verge of being launched. In addition a Marketing committee has since been established to direct the messaging of the organization and develop a program of outreach and sponsorship. The Networking Committee has developed a strong agenda for programs contributing to the learning objectives of the membership. Hangman Programming has a new socially significant mandate. In addition, two board committees have been established to increase accountability: Finance and Governance oversee internal leadership and perform an advisory function to the Executive Director. Furthermore, the Artist Cells were launched in the fall of 2009 to facilitate peer support.
2010 saw the establishment of sound programming, the development of the website for the benefit of members, and the establishment of a committee approach to the organization. An emphasis was placed on establishing fiscal responsibility and best practices and the development of the Finance Committeeʼs role in this process was seminal. This year was dedicated to finding the Network’s footing and strengthening its foundation – upon which we could truly build the organization. With the successes of the Riverdale Art Walk and Little Art Show and the increase in membership, the Network was in a good position.
At the end of 2010 the AN took over Visual Arts Ontarioʼs Art Rental and Advisory Program, and additional off-sight exhibition spaces. The Board decided that the Town Hall should be a biannual event, and the second of these events would be held in April 2011. The Riverdale Art Walk celebrates its thirteenth year, Little Art Show celebrates its tenth anniversary, and the membership of the organization is cresting 200. From a grassroots initiative begun in 1999, The Artists’ Network has developed into a strong and viable arts organization contributing to the livelihood of artists both locally and provincially.
In 2013, leveraging the success of the Riverdale Art Walk, the network launched Art Walk North, located in North Toronto, the inaugural show showcased 60+ artists to the business and collector community in Mel Lastman Square. That same year saw the gradual gentrification of the neighbourhood – with rents increasing substantially. In last 2013, the Network closed Hangman Gallery and moved into shared office space with the local BIA. In keeping with the mandate to provide show opportunities, the Network developed “pop-up” shows in multiple venues across the city.
The Artists’ Network continues to seek to help artists in their development as self-sustaining professionals. The commitment remains strong. For the organization to truly be a “network”, it continues to foster networking opportunities for the membership – not only between artists, but also between arts organization.