“The honeymoon is over. We are getting down to some real work,” says an unassuming woman from her seat in the Performing Arts Lodge green room on the Esplanade near the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. The speaker is distinguished writer Betty Jane Wylie (Member of the Order of Canada, D.Litt. Honorary doctorate, University of Manitoba), and she is sharing her experience of the Canadian Senior Artists’ Resource Network (CSARN) mentorship program, which is currently in its pilot stage.
CSARN (referred to as “see-sarn”) was founded in 2011 to support and enrich the lives of senior professional artists in four spheres: housing, finance, career and health/isolation. Services are extended to seniors over the age of sixty-five who have been professional artists for at least ten years. CSARN is also developing a mentorship program that officially launched in January 2014, and is currently accepting applications from professional artists of all ages. Mentors must be sixty or older, but mentees can be artists of any age wishing to develop new skills. Ms. Wylie quietly confesses she enjoys working with her mentee, but has no idea if those feelings are shared. “Oh, your mentee is just thrilled,” replies a smiling Joysanne Sidimus, the co-director of the CSARN mentorship program. The room resounds with laughter.
On June 5, 2014 CSARN hosted an information session about the mentorship program. Approximately thirty-five artists (mostly seniors with a small scattering of emerging artists) were in attendance. These artists included formidable and influential figures within the Canadian arts community, such as dance artists Claudia Moore (MOonhORsE Dance Theatre, Older and Reckless), Terrill Maguire (Jean A. Chalmers Award in Choreography, Ontario Arts Council/ Chalmers Arts Fellowship) and Patricia Beatty (founder, Toronto Dance Theatre) as well as actors Susan Cox and John Boylan. Excitement built over the course of this two-hour meeting, generating a climate of palpable enthusiasm for both CSARN as an organization and for the mentorship program. CSARN’s mentorship program clearly advocates for meaningful connections between emerging and senior artists. These cross-generational exchanges are essential to securing the future vitality of the arts in Canada.
CSARN was created by many of the artists who advocated for the development of artist-specific health-care programs (such as the Artists’ Health Centre at Toronto Western Hospital), training into second careers (the Dancer Transition Resource Centre) and affordable housing for retired performing artists (the Performing Arts Lodge). As Joysanne Sidimus noted in the June 5 meeting, many artists never retire. CSARN’s mentorship program is a cornerstone of the organization’s activities, ensuring senior and emerging artists remain active and integrated with the current arts scene. Benefits of the mentorship program include career advice, but also access to the wealth of life experience every generation has to share.
The artists present at the June 5 meeting certainly had stories to share. They did so passionately, taking time to provide illustrative anecdotes. The meeting began to take on a life of its own — diverging from the purely informational or administrative. The perspectives that emerged bore a remarkable similarity to those of emerging artists — a desire to be fairly compensated for artistic work, for instance, appears to be a concern for artists of all stages. As the conversation developed it became clear that those interested in mentorship did not only wish to transmit career advice. The CSARN program, which matches mentors and mentees with their personalities and goals, could also be part of an answer to the search for a deeper human connection.
To learn more about the benefits of becoming a mentee or mentor, visit the CSARN website for more details. The deadline to submit an application is July 1.