Workman Arts is an arts and mental health organization known internationally for its artistic collaborations, presentations, knowledge exchange, best practices and research on the impact of the arts on the quality of life of people living with mental illness and addiction.

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Our Approach

Workman Arts supports the creative goals of emerging and established artists with mental health and addiction issues by providing a safe, nurturing environment where artistic projects, professional opportunities and personal and professional networks are developed and fostered. Through participation in creative and collaborative projects that encourage the exchange of ideas between artist and observer, and the shared collective experience of audiences engaging in performances or presentation of works of art, connections are made between Workman Arts artists and the public at large and the discrimination and prejudice associated with mental illness and addiction is eroded. The key elements of our programming are:

      • • A personalized orientation program, individualized development plans and ongoing support;
      • • Celebrating and focusing on the capabilities of each member artist;
      • • Providing training in all five arts areas, from novice to advanced;
      • • Utilization of member artists for training and mentoring;
      • • Ensuring that the artistic works are professionally marketed and displayed, and that artists are paid competitive rates for their work (eg CARFAC, Actor’s Equity);
      • • Developing a network of people and organizations that will bring opportunities to our member artists through association;
      • • Developing and implementing evaluation methodologies so that we can improve and communicate the success of our efforts;
      • • Implementing, often in partnership with academic institutions, research programs and reviews;
      • • Developing communication materials and templates to share with organizations that wish to implement our programs in other geographic areas.



Snoozeland from Rendezvous with Madness 2014, Sean Patenaude
• To facilitate aspiring, emerging and established artists with mental illness and addiction issues to develop and refine their art form through its arts training programs, public performance/exhibit opportunities and partnering with other art organizations.

•To engage artists and audiences through the visual, performing, literary and media arts.

•To promote a greater public understanding of mental illness and addiction through the creation, presentation and discussion of the artistic media.

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We support our mission through:

      • • Provision of a supportive environment for the development of artistic projects.
      • • Provision of training programs in visual, performing, literary and media arts related to artistic and professional practice.
      • • Development of public performance/exhibition opportunities as well as networking opportunities with arts organizations and companies.
      • • Ongoing research and evaluation of programs.
      • • Dissemination of information and educational materials to the general public and all stakeholder organizations.

Brief History

Workman Arts is the longest-running multidisciplinary arts and mental health organizations in Canada and in the world. Founded in 1987 by Lisa Brown, a former psychiatric nurse at the CAMH, and guided by the principal that the create process is integral to the quest for personal and spiritual development, Workman Arts has grown over the years from a theatre company of eight member artists to a multidisciplinary arts organization with over 280 member artists. Located in the arts district in west-end Toronto, Workman Arts manages a 220-seat theatre, visual and media arts studios and training facilities. Its programs, approach and artistic productions have earned it national and international acclaim. An active Board of Directors with representation from the arts, finance and health care sectors support the staff of eight.  Workman Arts has a close, long-standing partnership with CAMH, Canada’s leading research and clinical facility involved in MH&A. Since inception, Workman Arts has created award-wining performances/exhibitions. These include annual exhibitions in the visual arts held in leading Toronto arts venues, the production and publication of literary works, over 30 original theatre productions including the Dora award-winning Edward the Crazy Man and Third Eye Looming, the creation of the internationally renowned Madness and Arts World Festival and the first and longest-running mental health film festival in the world, Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival.

History with Accolades

Over 29 groundbreaking years working in various artistic media, WA has produced more than 30 original full-length Canadian plays, 24 ‘Rendezvous with Madness Film Festivals’, 15 Annual ‘Being Scene’ Juried Art Exhibitions, four multi-disciplinary festivals and one international festival, the ‘Madness and Arts’ World Festival.

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2015 Scott Miller Berry, Managing Director, recipient of Toronto Arts Foundation Margo Bindhardt & Rita Davies Award

2014 Workman Arts’ Founder Lisa Brown appointed Member of the Order of Canada

2013 Workman Arts’ Founder Lisa Brown appointed for life as a Senior Ashoka Fellow

2013 Lisa Brown receives Queen Jubilee Medal in recognition of her contribution in founding Workman Arts

2013 Inaugural poetry anthology, All That is Real, is published including poetry by 32 member artists and edited by renowned Canadian poet and WA Poet-in-Residence, bill bissett.

2012 Her Excellency, Sharon Johnson becomes a patron of Workman Arts

2012 Workman Arts celebrates 25 years and produces the Mad Couture Catwalk and collaborates with Art Gallery of Ontario to present  one day symposium: The Convergence of Art and Mental Illness in the 21st Century, both at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  Mad Couture Catwalk is subsequently remounted at FAT Fashion Art Toronto Week and Rideau Hall in 2013.

2011 Workman Arts receives PSR Canada Pioneer Award for Excellence in Recovery as an organization that has made a significant contribution through promotion of education, support, wellness and recovery in the field of mental health.

2011 WA produces Edward the “Crazy” Man and lead actor receives a Dora Award for Best Lead Male Actor

2005 WA is invited to partner with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and the Toronto Consort. 9 artists create large scale paintings based on stories from Ovid’s Metamorphosis.

2004 Lisa Brown awarded Governor General Meritorious Service Medal

2003 WA creates inaugural Madness and Arts World Festival at Harbourfront Centre, including 187 artists and speakers from 8 countries. Subsequent editions produced in Germany (2006), Netherlands (2010). A China edition of this festival is in planning for 2014.

2001 Lisa Brown is awarded Canadian Mental Health Association Award for Outstanding Public Service in Interest of Mental Health

1999 WA creates the first Being Scene Juried Art Exhibit which has become the signature annual, juried art show.

1994 WA tours Vincent throughout Ontario and Manitoba and later to Munster, Germany.

1993 Workman Arts creates the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival which grows over 20+ years to become the largest mental health film festival in North America.

1992 Workman Arts produces its first multidisciplinary festival, City and The Asylum Festival: Cultural perspectives on the history of Madness in Toronto.

1991 Workman Arts incorporates and a Board of Directors is established.  WA produces Innerspeak, its first main stage original Canadian play.  22 other original Canadian plays follow over the next 24 years.

1987 Workman Theatre Project (WTP) is founded by Lisa Brown.

The Future

Workman Arts will serve as an international hub for arts and mental health organizations, performing a variety of activities including communications and education (workshops, seminars, lectures), public events, and research on mental health and the arts.

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The Future

In the spring of 2009, Workman Arts moved from its home at 1001 Queen Street to its current location in the former Equity Showcase Theatre at 651 Dufferin.  This is a temporary arrangement while new facilities are developed as a part of the much larger campus revitalization currently underway at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). An exceptional part of this new development will be a “Centre of Excellence”, a unique, state-of-the-art facility which will allow Workman Arts to not only grow its existing programming, but to also expand the depth and breadth of services offered to member artists and the wider community.  It will house a fully accessible arts and learning centre that include a 300 seat theatre, a visual art gallery, artists’ studios, digital media studio and rehearsal spaces.  Shovels will break ground on the new facility beginning in 2016.

View the Workman Arts’s 2015-2016 Annual Report.