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Dundas Valley School of Art receives provincial grant to expand further after a record summer

The Dundas Valley School of Art has received another grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation that will help the school continue to expand, as it wraps up its most successful summer to date. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

The Dundas Valley School of Art has marked its busiest summer on record and is on track to expand even further, thanks to a provincial grant.

2,846 people registered for summer programs this year, almost a 20-per cent increase compared to a  pre-pandemic high of 2,396 in 2019.

With another round of funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) announced on Tuesday, the school’s executive director Claire Loughheed said the financial support has been a “game changer”.

“It’s not just what it’s bought us. It’s the way that it’s created for us a launchpad for something that is completely new and allows us to serve the community in a far more comprehensive way than we ever could before.”

The latest OTF grant is for $42,300 and will help the non-profit school conduct in-depth market research and identify business growth opportunities.

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It will also help the school adopt ‘tap to pay’ technology that will allow people to donate much more easily.

Previous funding from the Trillium Foundation, including a $249,000 grant earlier this year, has helped the school expand its digital platform, upgrade its technology infrastructure and increase its online experiences.

Loughheed said the learning experiences during the pandemic have taught them how valuable it is to have the technology to offer art classes to a wider audience.

“We had one woman who was in the Middle East, taking one of our botanical illustration workshops,” she said. “She’s there with her husband while he’s working on a contract. She couldn’t take any art classes because of where she was located, and all of a sudden her favourite instructor is teaching online. So you start to see opportunities and ways of working that we’ve never engaged with before.”

One of the new programs that the school is exploring is “Art to Heart“, an online art therapy program for front-line health care workers who are struggling with burnout.

The sessions are free for those workers and give them a chance to do hands-on art activities that promote “self-reflection, processing experiences, recognition of one’s own personal strength and personal growth, developing key resiliency strategies, and moments of joy through creativity.”

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The program was piloted in 2021 with funding from the Hamilton Community Foundation (HCF) and was hugely successful — with 60 participants, as well as 60 people on the waiting list.

Loughheed said they’re aiming to ensure that everyone who was on that waiting list can take part in the program as it relaunches this fall.

“When I was reading initially about how health-care workers were struggling, it almost sounded like people talking about coming out of war zones … I knew that the health-care workers weren’t going to want to stress out their families by talking about some of the things they were seeing and experiencing and how it was affecting them,” Loughheed said.

“But if they were in a safe environment and among peers, having those conversations was a bit more straightforward because there was a lot of context that was already understood.”

Suganya Vadivelu, an education and development clinician at Hamilton Health Sciences, was one of those who took part in the pilot in 2021, and shared her experiences through a story on the hospital system’s website at the time.

“It was such a positive experience,” she told HHS. “There was a lot of self-reflection and looking into deeper meanings of the art we created. I really enjoyed it and felt rejuvenated after each class.”

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To date, Loughheed said the Dundas Valley School of Art has received nearly half a million dollars through the Trillium Foundation and she said their five-year plan includes looking at equity at the school and what can be done to improve access and inclusion, as well as financial sustainability and ongoing growth.

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