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Art City a ‘parallel universe’

Dressy fundraiser for 15th anniversary dubbed Crystal Ball

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When asked why he likes to go to Art City Bohdan Kyslenko, 9, mixed the obvious with powerful observation.

"You can make art, and I love art because all the planet is art," said Kyslenko, paintbrush in hand.

The answer drew impressed and touched sounds from the few adults working with youth in the basement of the free community art centre, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, on Broadway last week.

It’s an answer Art City managing director Josh Ruth would probably have loved to hear, if he hadn’t been upstairs "shaking the money tree," as he calls it, to keep the non-profit centre funded.

Started in 1998 by lauded Winnipeg artist and Order of Canada recipient Wanda Koop (the National Gallery of Canada labels her "one of Canada’s most distinguished and noted artists") Art City staff and 28 volunteers see art, as Kyslenko does, as manifesting beyond their doors.

"We feel that if kids and youth are influenced by our positive creative environment at a young age it will be formative for the rest of their life," said Ruth, who notes they average about  25 participants for each of the more than 250 evenings a year they are open.

Koop is now an honourary chair of Art City, though still involved. She was a child of poverty in West Broadway, Ruth said, and was lucky enough to access art programs at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Accessing such programs at a young age taught her the value of, and need for, free art programming in the community.

"She feels, and we feel as an organization, that if people can learn to think creatively, as self-expression, they can find creative solutions in their lives," Ruth said.

Kelly Frazer said she brings her kids to Art City because her son loves it, and will bug her if she doesn’t.

"I think it’s an amazing program. It’s kind of a little parallel universe for kids where everything is amazing," said Frazer as daughter Alice, 2, and son Sloan, 5, glazed dragon plaques.

Upstairs, children painted birdhouses and hammered them together.

As she applied a green colour to her birdhouse wall, a smocked Kiara Beaulieu said she’d been coming to Art City for two years and three months.

"I’ve been keeping track," said the nine-year-old, adding she would put her creation on a tree.

"Before I do that I’m going to use it for my teddy bear’s bed."

Ruth said Art City reaches beyond its doors at 616 Broadway. One person focuses full-time on outreach programs directed towards youth. The City of Winnipeg contracted them to do it rather than start their own programs, Ruth said.

They also venture beyond West Broadway, he said, doing regular workshops in six different neighbourhoods.

Ruth, the self-described money tree-shaker, said their "holy trinity" of funding is the city, the province, and the United Way of Winnipeg, but individual donors are critical.

And with the goal of keeping that money tree flowering, and in celebration of their 15th anniversary, Art City has dubbed their annual fundraiser the Crystal Ball.

"We’re encouraging people to get dressed up, we have a ballroom at the Marlborough Hotel, and we’re giving dance lessons," said Ruth.

Ted Motyka will "teach the crowd foxtrot and tango, en masse," Ruth said, and a "surf-rock cover band," – the Catamounts – will play music.

"We want to sell 1,000 tickets, that’s our goal… they’re only $20, so, it’s a pretty good price for what the event is. There’s a lot being offered and it’s always a lot of fun," said Ruth.

Crystal Ball goers can pick up tickets for the Sat., April 27 fundraiser, being held in the Marlborough Hotel’s Skyview Ballroom, at Art City, Music Trader, or Into the Music. Advance tickets are $20, or pay $25 at the door.

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