Discovering your IdentityTorontoArts

Ontario arts programs allow creatives to cultivate artist identities


Daddy Cool by Midyan Samson (Image Source: Midyan Samson


Equitable and affordable, Ontario government/municipality-funded not-for-profit arts programs provide opportunities for creatives at any level of their career to cultivate their artist identities. It was not until I moved from Vancouver to Toronto that I realized how important being a part of arts programs could be for helping me discover my artistic identity.

From 2021–2022, according to the Ontario Arts Council’s (OAC) annual report, they invested $44.8 million in OAC grants to arts organizations. This is in contrast to the BC Arts Council (BCAC) annual report, which invested $2.6 million with an additional $​​12.4 million in COVID-19 Recovery Funding for arts organizations.


Ontario arts programs allow creatives to cultivate artist identities


Through the OAC’s initiatives, the arts and culture scene represents 3.5% of Ontario’s GDP and creates about 254,985 culture jobs. According to the Ontario Arts Council, 88% of Ontarians agree that “participating in arts activities builds a shared sense of community identity” and 86% of Ontarians agree that “the arts help us express and define what it means to be Canadian.”

Meanwhile, British Columbia’s (BC) arts and culture scene in 2021-2022  accounted for 2.9% of BC’s GDP. Jobs in the culture sector accounted for 4.4% of all jobs in the province, totalling 117,972 culture jobs in British Columbia in 2021 — 16% more than 2020. However, the 2021–2022 BC Arts Council annual reports don’t include any statistics about British Columbians’ thoughts on how community arts impact their lives. 

The lack of data regarding BC citizens’ thoughts on how community arts programs impact their lives likewise shows a lack of investment in the BC government’s interest in cultivating art and cultural identity in the province. I have been part of a couple of Toronto arts programs since I moved to Toronto from BC at the beginning of 2023. Whether that be in film or writing, these programs helped guide me towards discovering my artistic identity than the handful of BC arts programs I had joined; this is in part due to the funding provided to Ontario arts organizations. 


Ontario arts programs allow creatives to cultivate artist identities


Similarly, these programs were also important to Midyan Samson. When she first started using the camera, Midyan Samson, a Toronto-based photographer, took photos just for fun. But after a while, she realized something was missing from her photos. The photos weren’t boring, but they were missing meaning. Ontario arts programs like the Remix Project and Shoot for Peace have helped her cultivate her craft of storytelling and building a community with other artists.


When did you start taking photographs?

I was watching old home videos. I’m always asking for the camera. So maybe it was always interesting. In high school, I used to see photo walks online, so I went during them and took photos with my phone. And then after that, I worked at CNE for like a summer. And then I bought my own camera, a Rebel DSLR, and then I started taking photos. Then I got into The Remix Project, and it helped me learn the basics of photography, like how to operate a camera and things like that.


What is Shoot for Peace? What are you doing with them?

It’s a photography program that’s not for profit. I joined right after my not-doing-photography break. I thought it was a nice way to refresh and learn new skills as well. And I think through that program is how I learned what creative direction is, and how you can put together a deck, and how to use studio lights, things like that. But there’s also a really big component of community. I think the reason I quit before was because I was trying to do it on my own. Now, I’m dealing with the community, and we’re working together to do things.


Ontario arts programs allow creatives to cultivate artist identities


Tell me more about your experience with the Shoot for Peace Program?

The theme of the exhibit was nostalgia. We came up with that idea together. I did a project on music. I did it on a song called Daddy Cool. It’s like an old funky song. So the photos look like this cool vibe, Afro shimmery, things like that. Now, they (Shoot for Peace) gave me a grant, which is like a different program called the Community Impact Program. They’ll give you a $5,000 grant, and then you are able to do anything that’s arts community-related. So what I decided to do is create a collective — gather a bunch of artists from the West End, and do workshops and events that highlight West End artists and the West End area. So the first thing I’m doing is an exhibit, which would bring together the artists and then have them highlighted in the area. And then the second component would be actually doing workshops in these neighbourhoods.


What did you learn about being an artist through these programs?

Regardless of where you are, it’s always about being punctual, if that makes sense. I think communication is a really big part. I don’t know if that’s always something that’s communicated. Not trying to reach people that are above you as well. Work up with the people that are on the same level with you. I think that’s a really big part.



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