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CarTunes Started Parade To Arts Self-Sufficiency

CarTunes Started Parade To Arts Self-Sufficiency

Photo: Windsor arts champions with polka dot CarTune, from left: Gina Lori Riley, Barb Bondy, Bill Wright and Carolyne Rourke. Photo by Rod Denis.

CarTunes Started Parade To Arts Self-Sufficiency

The short story I am about to unfold is as good as any fairy tale. It’s about a blue collar city, addicted to cars and sports, actually embracing the arts, of all peripheral things.

Once upon a time, 22 long years ago, four driven women approached Windsor City Council requesting assistance to create a permanent funding base for community artists and arts organizations.

A year earlier, that visionary foursome founded the Windsor Endowment for the Arts (WEA) representing Windsor, Essex and Pelee Island.

The stemwinders were Gina Lori Riley of Gina Lori Riley Dance Enterprises; Mary Rodgers, then Executive Director of the Arts Council Windsor and Region, now a City of Windsor Communications Officer; stellar Lawyer Nancy Nicholson, who happened to be in love with the arts, and arts and culture activist Barb Bondy. They had grown weary of being saddled with the beggar label for approaching Council every year for grant pittances.

It was pretty erratic,” admits Riley, who now doubles as a University of Windsor Professor. “There was no rationalization for which organization got funding.”

A dubious Council gave the go-ahead in 1995 to study the idea of supporting WEA. Fundraising began in 1996 with the city granting seed money for a cultural assessment by (who else?) a consultant. That man, John Fisher, concluded that “WEA is not only an excellent idea, but it does not exist anywhere else in North America.”

WEA was incorporated in 1998 and a one day symposium ensued entitled “Strategies for Self-Sufficiency in the Arts.” The session was funded by the province, the city and the Arts Council.

Mayor Mike Hurst, a jock then, and now a Justice of the Peace, was behind the idea and gave an inspiring speech. In 1999, I was part of the City Council that approved a matching grant of $250,000 to establish the endowment. Sadly, WEA was not able to meet the three year window to trigger the city grant, although the organization was granted charitable status in 2001 to entice donors who wanted tax receipts.

Legal advisor Nicholson, who recently moved to Brockville, convinced Carolyne Rourke to join WEA. A visual artist with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Rourke was chiefly responsible for adorning the University of Windsor with campus art, for over 10 years, as a devoted volunteer supported by President Ron Ianni.

In 2000, Rourke succeeded Lori Riley as President of WEA, a position she still holds with distinction. Also in 2000, Bondy left for Alabama to teach visual arts at Auburn University, where she remains.

For several years, only $8,000 was raised for the endowment fund as the group used Ontario Trillium Foundation money to conduct strategic planning and implement a variety of marketing initiatives and public communication plans.

Then along came Fairy Godmother Rourke, and CarTunes On Parade (CTop), an idea Rourke borrowed from Chicago’s Cows On Parade.

WEA became lead organizer of the project in 2005. Partnering with the Metropolitan Detroit YMCA, CarTunes was the first international public art exhibit between Windsor and Detroit.

The project involved the design, creation and display of 112 car sculptures that celebrated the region’s passion for cars and music. A live auction, presented by the Big Three domestic automakers, was held on October 26, 2005 at the General Motors Wintergarden at the Detroit Renaissance Centre. Thirty eight sculptures were sold.

Prior to the live event, an internet auction was held, with 74 seven-foot sculptures and 100 one-foot maquettes being auctioned.

Sponsors were enticed to pay $5,000 to cover the cost of the fiberglass mould, designed by local artist Joseph DeAngelis and manufactured by Ed Bernard’s mould company, as well as the artists’ fee for the materials and unique painting of each car.

Twelve years later, several CarTunes remain scattered around the cities, such as Drew Ellwood’s signature polka dot model in front of the Parks and Rec maintenance building on McDougall Avenue. (See accompanying photo).

In a true team effort, City of Windsor parks employees Pat Lewis and Faye Langmaid and the City of Detroit’s Cultural Director Marilyn Wheaton did much of the co-ordination and marketing of the project.

None of the money went to the WEA fund, but the project met its objective.

The primary purpose was educational to raise awareness of arts and culture,” says Rourke. “WEA executed an excellent educational component for elementary school students throughout Windsor and area.”

Enter the angel.

It was the donation of $240,000 to WEA from an anonymous donor who appreciated CTop that was instrumental in moving WEA forward,” says Rourke.

Other successful fundraisers followed, including a tribute to famed author Alistair MacLeod in 2006 and a Walkathon for a Creative City in 2009, which has since morphed into a walk celebrating Windsor’s birthday. In 2011, WEA rebranded its event to WEA Walks Toonies Talk” and expanded its fundraising component.

WEA continues its funding and awareness campaigns, including the Artistry of Windsor Essex reception in 2015 that attracted over 200 patrons. Former University of Windsor Chancellor Eric Jackman was honoured there and he gifted WEA $50,000. Part of that money is set aside for a $1,000 biennial arts internship grant awarded to a grade 11 or 12 student, presented in his name.

Later this month (September 27 at Caesars Windsor), WEA is hosting a tribute dinner in which 12 community partners will honor the Morris and Beverly Baker Foundation to recognize the Baker family’s extraordinary philanthropy to local causes, including WEA, for over two decades. (learn more at: WEA-Arts.com)

Halberstadt’s column continues here.