In January 2996, a group of Ottawa street artist and Ottawa Innercity Ministries initiated the beginning of an artists cooperative. This partnership was based on the principles of Assets Based Community Development (ABCD.) In a short six-month period a community was developed and pARTners was born.
Artists in general encounter several obstacles to achieving success. These include breaking through and gaining recognition, trying to support themselves while creating their art and being accepted in a society that increasingly sees art as of little value in this culture of the bottom line. For street artists there is the additional burden of having no place to create (except in the warmer weather of the summer when they can work outside). On top of that, there is their need for basic survival – many are on the streets, in shelters or low income boarding houses (hardly places that nurture the creative process.) Many are dealing with addictions, where feeding that addiction or rehabilitating it is their primary concern. There is also the Safe Streets Act, which prohibits streets artists from selling their art on the street, where exposure in high traffic areas such as the market might reveal the next Norveau Morrisette. When an artist does manage to sell a few pieces on a street corner they hardly sell for what they might actually be worth. Finally, creating art is an isolating process, and street artists already start out with little or no sense of community.
Roughly, ABCD is a concept in which community is developed by recognizing and using the assets within a group to empower and further develop that community. Rather than solutions coming top down from the would be helping organizations, they are found an pursued in a lateral partnership. In the case of pARTners, the assets are the work of the artists, the lessons they can teach each other, sharing their own ideas on how to setup a show or display a piece, and doing the overwhelming physical work of setting up a show. Each member has an equal say in the cooperative, contributes to the running of pARTners and show setups as well as contributing a percentage of sales to the coop's budget. Though currently primarily reliant on grants, the eventual goal is to have pARTners rely primarily on moneys brought in by the artists. Ottawa Innercity Ministries oversees the grant application process, the initial accounting and administering of the finances as well as proving a space for the artists and initial supplies, adding to the meaning of pARTners.
pARTners is an attempt to give the artists a voice in their future and a sense of empowerment. Though a laudable goal, the results so far have fallen short in some ways. Running an organization democratically and keeping an eye on the bottom line proved difficult. Running large shows created a sense of competition amongst the artists and reduced the sense of community. Yet, there have been successes and these successes have proven to be the foundation for the next phase of pARTners. In the time since its inception some sense of community was created, artist did sell work and are now looking forward to the next phase of the coop as well as staging their own shows. In addition, lessons have been learned from the failures and these will be incorporated in the new structure. The next phase will see more focus on the democratic nature of coops and less on immediate financial independence, empowering the artists as individuals in control of their creative nature and their future as artists, further developing the community that has been already developed and developing relationships between street artists and the venues in which their valuable work can be displayed and brought to the attention of mainstream society. As homeless increases, and less money becomes available for the disenfranchised in this increasingly conservative society, pARTners is a small attempt to remove a group of people from the disenfranchised and disempowered; to help them become empowered, contributing members of our society.