The Art Tour Story (a work in progress) -- by our founder, John Y. Lynch
This is a personal account of the history of The Art Tour.
There have been many artists taking part over the years, each with their own stories to tell. We’ve watched emerging artists take their first forays into the art world and move on to greater success around the world. Fast friendships have formed and endured. The spirit of cooperation has proven the power of teamwork to accomplish more than any one person could alone.
Born of Frustration
In 1996, after having been accepted by the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition jury for 8 consecutive years, my application was rejected for the first time. My sense of frustration was tangible, realizing the value of being in that show and the lack of other viable such events for artists in Toronto. Conversations with highly talented artists who had also been rejected by TOAE led me and others to feel a need for something new and different.
A New Renaissance
The beginning of what would be the Art Tour came from my participation in The Self Expression and Leadership Program at Landmark Education. As part of that program I had to create a project that would bring together different types of ‘communities’ to create new possibilities.
I chose my local community of artists, and my home community of West Toronto, to create a networking evening for all those involved in the arts. The event took place at BillyBob’s Bistro & Saloon on Bloor Street, on June 12, 1997. Representatives from VAO and CARFAC did information presentations and more than 50 local artists showed up and got acquainted and talked about all manner of things. There was a sign-up sheet for anyone who might want to take part in a studio tour in the BWV area.
For me, the idea of creating events like this out of nothing was quite a radical departure. It was the inspiration and encouragement that I got from the programs at Landmark that moved me to take such a bold step.
The idea to do a studio tour emerged from some conversations that I was having with fellow artist Sonia Day about creating a new event to showcase local artists in the Bloor West / Swansea / High Park communities. We thought of a number of options, including an outdoor show in one of the parkettes behind Bloor St, but this idea was not endorsed by the local business association, so we settled on the idea of a studio tour patterned after the successful Beach Studio Tour.
Sonia and I and fellow artist Shirley Hartt visited the Beach Studio Tour in May 1997 to study what they did and try to emulate it. We then formed our own studio tour and named it The Bloor West Village Art Tour, as it was thought the Bloor Street commercial strip would make a fitting focal point for the event.
Our mission was to create a quality artistic event to give local artists an opportunity to showcase and sell their work. It would also raise the profile of the arts in our community and put our community ‘on the map’ as a place to go to see fine art. We realized there would be a lot of work to set it up, and so not wanting to throw it together in a hurry, we gave ourselves until the following spring to begin out studio tour.
The first Bloor West Village Art Tour took place at the beginning of June 1998. We had 24 artists in 12 locations in BWV and Swansea. There was no jury. Each artist paid $20, and then when we ran out of money, we had to collect another $20 from each of the artists in order to defray our costs.
Despite a dodgy weekend weather-wise, the first Bloor West Village Art Tour was a success. However, the effort involved in producing the Art Tour took a toll on the organizers, particularly Sonia Day, who was the most experienced in this sort of thing and took on the lion’s share of the work. Sonia told us in the first post-tour meeting that she would not be participating in future (although she did return to the Tour in later years), and gave us her account of what we should do in future if indeed we dared to do another Art Tour.
Well we did. Using Sonia’s detailed notes, we created the second Bloor West Village Art Tour in 1999. This time we charged the artists more money up front, and introduced (on Sonia’s advice) a jurying process for new applicants - of which there were quite a few.
The First Jury
The Art Tour wanted to ensure a consistent standard of quality for its artists, but wanted to avoid the uncertainty experienced by applicants to the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition who must be juried each year, and have no way to know if they will be accepted.
So The Art Tour introduced a jury, made of current members of the Tour, to evaluate new applicants each year. The criteria then, as now, is merit-based, with no quotas on style or medium, or where the artist lives. The only stipulation is that the artists need to have a place in The Art Tour’s geographical area in which to show their work. This is either arranged by the artist, or by the Tour organizers. To date, no artist has been forced to withdraw from the Tour because they couldn’t find a place to show.
Once accepted by the jury, new members become permanent, and do not have to be juried in future years, even if they miss a year or more and come back. This way, our members can confidently plan to be in the Tour each year if they wish.
Welcome the Junction
After the 2001 Art Tour, I was approached by George A. Anthony, who suggested the Art Tour join forces with a group of artists based in the Junction area. This led to three Junction-area artists joining the Tour in 2002, with locations in the Junction participating in the Tour for the first time.
The Junction, a hotbed for artists, has been a part of the Tour ever since, so much so that it influenced the changing of the name of the Tour in 2014 to be more inclusive of the areas where artists on the Tour are located.
The Art Tour in Colour
From 1998 to 2002, The Art Tour had always produced a black and white brochure due to the high cost of colour printing. In 2003, with the advent of new digital printing technologies, and a frenetic sponsorship campaign that nearly led to several nervous breakdowns, the Art Tour released its first full-colour brochure in booklet form.
In 2005, the Tour experimented with a change of dates from the usual first weekend of June to a mid-May weekend. The idea was to capture the ‘cottage crowd’ before they vanished from town for the summer. Turnout, as it turns out, was comparable with other years, and the Tour was again successful, with a minimum of confusion about the change of dates. On the down side, the weather was awful, and having been the coldest spring in decades, there was very little growing yet; so people were not keen on wandering around the neighbourhood. It was so bad that the famous Cherry Blossoms in High Park didn’t bother coming out at all that year.
Interestingly, it would turn out to be the second hottest summer on record for Toronto.
Hittin’ The Web
In 2005 Kanchan Maharaj, a photographer with a technical bent, joined the Tour and helped set up our first web-site, using the url www.arttour.info.
Our First Group Show
In October 2005, The artists of the Art Tour organized a fall group show, in partnership with The Grenadier Retirement Residence. A total of 15 artists took part on a dark cold rainy weekend. The show was curated by noted art professional Flavio Belli, and drew over 500 visitors in two days. All the artists sold at least one work.
The event was met with a mixture of intrigue and bemusement by the residents. The success of the group show was largely due to the tireless efforts and enthusiasm of Paul Thompson.
A New Pair of Shoes
In 2008, Susan Manchester joined the Tour for the first time, showing at her house on Windermere. From day-one Susan has been an enthusiastic member of the Tour. Susan’s husband, Mike Glicksohn got so into the spirit of the Tour, that he personally hand-delivered several thousand brochures door-to-door throughout the neighbourhood.
The Tour acknowledged Mike’s tireless efforts with a gift certificate for a new pair of shoes!
Like us on Facebook
In 2012, David Tomlin created the first Facebook account for the Tour. In 2014, Vera Lityinsky extended our Facebook presence and has used it extensively to promote the artists.
It now has hundreds of followers.
New member Tosh Jeffrey also created an account for the 2014 Tour on Instagram.
A New Name
After the 2013 Art Tour, it became a serious topic of conversation that the name ‘The Bloor West Village Art Tour’ no longer reflected the diverse geographical nature of our event.
A number of alternatives were considered, some of which included ‘Junction’ in the name to recognize the increased presence or the Tour in that area. In an effort to avoid a split in the membership, a compromise was arrived at.
So for 2014 the Tour was renamed simply The Art Tour. Fortunately, we already had arttour.info as our internet domain so we were instantly recognizable on the web.
More Group Shows and a Collective Approach
By this time, the Art Tour was more popular and successful than ever. An influx of new members and new ideas led to talk of expanding our efforts beyond the single studio tour to encompass additional group show events and even the concept of an Artist Collective.
While some discussions were had on the idea of a Collective, concrete steps in this direction were still a few years away. But that didn’t stop us from branching out in new directions. In October 2014, led by Sandra Franke, we held our first ever group show ‘30@3030’ at the 3030 Bar on Dundas St in the Junction. The opening evening featured a live performance by the band Patty-Cake.
Fire! Fire! Fire!
In 2015, we repeated this program with the studio tour and a group show again at 3030, this time featuring a performance by the band Ginger Grey. Unfortunately, a few days after the opening, a late night fire hit 3030 causing extensive damage and forcing them to close for several months. Due to quick action by the bar owners and the local fire department, the damage was less than it might have been, and the art was rescued from the blaze and the water that quenched it, with relatively little damage.
Out of the Hood
In February 2016, the Art Tour stepped across Yonge Street for its first ever event outside of our neighbourhood, with a group show at Todmorden Mills. The gallery space was excellent and turnout at the opening was good despite a bitter cold weekend. Several large works sold as well. The 2016 Art Tour was the largest ever with 40 artists exhibiting at a record 34 sites around the neighbourhood. We followed up with an October group show at the newly restored 3030, again featuring a performance by Ginger Grey.
Celebrating Our 20th Year!
After the 2016 Art Tour, there was a great deal of discussion about how to celebrate our 20th year in 2017. Many ideas were raised for group shows, outdoor shows and even a proposal to replace the studio tour with an outdoor format in a single location to coincide with the Junction Solstice Festival.
There was a strong outpouring of support among the artists to continue the popular studio tour format, but many were excited at the prospect of doing an outdoor tent show as part of the Junction Solstice Festival. So we decided to do both. Thanks to the planning efforts of Sandra Franke and others, the Solstice proposal became a real tangible thing with the Junction BIA, the local BMO Branch and Aboveground Art Supplies coming on board in a big way.
By late 2016 the concept of a Collective was becoming a reality, not just talk. A core group of leaders began to meet regularly to plan the transition from a single annual event to an ongoing arts organization presenting numerous events throughout the year and boasting a membership of over 50 artists and growing.
The Art Tour Collective is born
We enter 2017 with a new name, a new logo and a new website www.arttourcollective.com . Member artists may choose to participate in one or many events in 2017, including the first ever Solstice Art Market on June 24, a group show in February 2017 at Gallery 1313 in Parkdale, or a group show at Art Square Gallery across from the AGO, September 12-25, 2017, as well as the familiar Studio Tour on June 2-4, which for 2017 will feature 38 artists at 30 sites.
There are many issues for us to grapple with as we go forward, such as incorporation, contracts, insurance, membership and how we accept new members and exhibitors to our various events.
So the adventure continues....
John Y Lynch