The Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts
is a non-profit community arts organization
, that was founded
in 2003. The centre, founded by Wendy Hollo, Curtis Gillespie
and Paul Freeman began as a project of SKILLS Society, a local agency that supports people with developmental disabilities. Wendy and Curtis has previously partnered to publish a book of life stories, including the story of Nina Haggerty. Nina and her sister Rita spent over five decades in an institution before finally realizing their dream to live together in a home in community, as they had as children. It was then, late in life, that Nina took her first art class, unleashing a passion and talent for art making that would mark the last decade of her life. Her story served as the inspiration
behind the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts.
“Nina loved to paint and showed great talent for it. She created many beautiful paintings that now hang proudly in the homes of friends and support staff. One can only imagine the contribution she would have been able to make in her lifetime had her gift been recognized and nurtured earlier. Three years after her death in 1999, the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts opened its doors. Her life underscores the great importance of providing people with developmental disabilities the chance to find creative outlets for expressing their experiences and emotions.” (web)
The Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts provides a studio experience where adults with developmental disabilities can focus in a serious way on the creation of art and their own development as artists. For many of these emerging artists, it is the first time that they have been recognized for their talent and capacity, rather than their disability. Most artists who come to work in the studio live in group homes with paid supports or with their families. Some require the assistance of support staff to attend.
The philosophy behind the centre is that everyone has the inherent right to engage in creative activity, and their mission supports that. As Paul expounded, art-making allows an individual to tell a new story about who they are. It gives them a new identity as an artist. The most important thing is to offer people the chance to see themselves in a new light, and develop their self-worth through art. The studio program is not intended as therapy, but a place where one can explore and development their interest in art to a new level.
The objective in the studio is to provide a place of freedom for participants, allowing them to explore their creativity on their own. Participants have “genuinely beautiful work,” and staff do not want to overly influence their style or their process. It is important for participants to feel like they have authority over their own work because they are often find themselves being told what to do and how to do during the course of their day-to-day lives. Their general mandate is to say ‘yes’, for example, ”more paper?” yes, “more supplies?”, yes…
In order to work in the studio at the Nina Haggerty Centre, artists commit to regular attendance and pay a nominal membership fee. They then become members of the Artists’ Collective and receive materials, a place to work, mentorship by paid professional artists and the opportunity to exhibit their art work. The more established artists in the Collective are encouraged to pursue professional ways of making work by being more specific and attentive to quality. Exhibition of their work raises awareness with community and becomes a vehicle that can connect people on the basis of common interest.
Adults with developmental disabilities interested in checking out the Centre are provided a tour and invited to use the space for a number of weeks before membership is discussed. Those who chose to become members pay between $150 and $300 per year, based on the number of days each week that they commit to working in the studio. For this population, living on fixed government support, the fee is significant and underscores their commitment. The fee helps offset the cost of art supplies.
Artists have the opportunity to work in various media, including printmaking, dance, drawing, painting, digital, photography, ceramics, fibre, sewing and video. On International Dance Day, the Centre presented its first dance recital with the support of local dance collective, Mile Zero Dance. The Centre also offers free and low cost family and community art classes that are well attended. Since moving to its expanded new facility, the Centre has begun to offer weekly art classes for those struggling with addiction, as well as bi-weekly outreach to a child and family resource centre in the community. New goals include expansion of children’s programming and development fo a music program.
The Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts operates an on-site public art gallery, the Stollery Gallery, hosting regular exhibit openings, art receptions and special events. The Stollery Gallery strives to present work by artists who face barriers or who are under-represented in mainstream galleries. Guest artists exhibiting their work are encouraged to get involved with artists from the Collective, perhaps collaborating for exhibition or spending time in the studio as a mentor. Artists from the Collective have also exhibited their work in other public galleries (St. Albert, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto) and even internationally.
The Nina Haggerty Centre has collaborated with many organizations, extending their partnerships beyond art exhibitions. Currently, the Centre is partnering with Canada World Youth and are working with a Brazilian group near São Paolo who want to establish an art centre for people with developmental disabilities.
The studio operates with no full-time staff, employing a dedicated team of 6-8 part time professional artists, supported by a number of volunteers. There is also a part time Executive Director and Administrator. Recently, the Centre has been able to purchase its own building in an inner city neighbourhood that has been undergoing significant transformation as a new arts district in Edmonton. Despite appearances (the new building), the Centre continues to struggle month to month to cover operating expenses and are grateful to a number of very generous individuals and groups who have helped to make ends meet with grants and donations.
The Centre’s challenge this year has been to manage the transition to the new building, and respond to the changing abilities and growing talents of the centre’s Collective of artists. During the next few years, the major challenge will be to successfully execute a capital campaign to enable the Centre to complete the purchase of the facility.
The catchment area is Edmonton, however some participants commute from outside of the city. The language of service is English. The average number of participants is 28 per day, 135 per month ; and approximately 155 annually. The hours of operation are M-F, 9:30-2:30. The annual budget for the Centre is approximately $370,000. Almost 65% of annual operating costs are funded through government disability and arts grants. Another 25% is generated through fundraising and earned revenue with the balance covered by foundation and project grants. From its inception, the fundraising MO has been very much an “if you build it, they will come… and they will fund it!” To date, that has worked surprisingly well.
WISHLIST: Aside from needing a $2 million windfall to meet the capital goal, the Centre needs good art materials – canvases, paper, brushes, acrylic paint. It is also interested in your time, always looking for volunteers to come in to mentor in the studio once a week or as a one-off to come in as ”artist in residence.” It can be an enriching place for an artist to volunteer their time.
ArtBridges interview on April 1st, 2010 with Paul Freeman.