It’s hard to believe that something like art – or simply pursuing the passion of art – could be a privilege in our community. In a poll taken by Global News in 2018, they found that parents in the GTA spend an average of $1,160 per child per year on extracurricular activities. Of these parents, 55-percent feel their finances are stretched thin because of the cost of after school programs. Millennial parents (ages 18-34) are struggling the most – with nearly 40% putting themselves in debt to support their children’s talents and passions.
Don Pangman, the founder of ArtHouse in Oakville, understands this pressure. During his involvement as a volunteer with the United Way of Oakville in the late 90s, Don started to learn more about poverty in his community – and how many of the unsung heroes (various charitable agencies) are crucial for support. Oakville and Burlington are certainly thriving communities – however, many families and individuals are living in poverty, and therefore are unable to afford any extracurricular services for their kids.
With inspiration from his time at the United Way, Don began to look for voids where existing service organizations were unable to meet a need. After completing some research and in conjunction with Don’s passion for the arts, he incorporated ArtHouse in 2009. During his research, Don discovered some astounding facts that drove the inception of ArtHouse. The key takeaway was learning that the arts enhance development, inspire passion, teach life skills, and can lead to success in education, emotional well-being, and future employment.
In 2009, ArtHouse began as an Oakville based charity offering free arts programs for children and youth ages 7-12. That year, they provided two programs to a total of 60 children. Now, just over a decade later, ArtHouse still maintains the same mandate, but has delivered 634 programs to over 9,000 young people aged 5-17 at 90 locations throughout Halton.
With over 50 partners, including agencies like the Children’s Aid Society (CAS), Reach Out Centre for Kids (ROCK), Nelson Youth Centre, Halton Multicultural Council, Halton Community Housing Corporation (HCHC), Halton Environmental Network, elementary and high schools, and one very special institution – Sheridan College – ArtHouse can provide diverse programming with more than 30 highly trained instructors – truly bringing out the best in each participant.
And then suddenly in March this year, COVID-19 struck and dramatically affected the lives of many ArtHouse families, including kids’ access to school breakfast programs. AND, no more ArtHouse after-school programs.
The organization transitioned quickly to become an Essential Service provider, partnering with a number of local restaurants that offered to prepare fresh dinners for ArtHouse families. As of mid-July, the Emergency Meals Program has provided over 1,500 meals to 66 families in Burlington and Oakville, and later in the month, ArtHouse will be supporting Milton families with a similar program.
ArtHouse has also innovatively transitioned its arts programs, and now offers 23 online instructional Youtube videos on its website, plus an interactive ZOOM program, enabling it to reach hundreds of young people throughout Halton.
Don says the organization has learned so much more about ArtHouse families and their needs over these past weeks. Going forward their program focus will be in two key areas: neighbourhoods – subsidized housing, cooperatives, and community hubs; and agencies – working in partnership with the CAS, ROCK, Halton Multi-Cultural Council
Current virtual and eventual physical programming will always include musical theatre camps, improv, visual arts, glee, puppet making, music, and more options.
Registration for some programs is available on the ArtHouse website. Spaces are given first to those who are affiliated with one of their partner agencies or to kids who would not be able to access ArtHouse programs if there was a registration fee.
With an even stronger resolve to reach vulnerable families, ArtHouse has enhanced its mission to support the Whole Child; creatively, physically, socially, emotionally, intellectually, educationally and nutritionally. It will do this by providing consistent, safe, FREE arts programming and strong role-model relationships, that may include homework help, cooking, gardening, environmental education and maybe just a great conversation.