When the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts first opened its doors in 2003, it quickly became known as a hub for both the city’s artistic community and individuals with disabilities.
Inspired by the story of Nina Haggerty, a woman who lived with polio from an early age, the centre enables individuals with developmental disabilities to discover themselves as artists. After spending more than fifty years institutionalized, Haggerty was finally introduced to art in the last decade of her life. Her passion was evident, and she spent the next decade creating works of art for many friends and support staff.
Today, the Nina offers a similar ray of hope for artists with developmental disabilities. From a bright studio in the heart of Edmonton’s Alberta Avenue neighbourhood, more than 200 burgeoning artists are able to explore a range of media from drawing to painting, fibre arts, clay and more. Through one-on-one mentorship, small group sessions and larger workshops with professional and practicing artists, these individuals are empowered to express their experiences and emotions.
Although the Nina’s clientele and community support have grown steadily from the time it opened, the organization’s growth hasn’t come without its own challenges. As is often the case for many non-profits, funding became particularly challenging as the Nina’s popularity increased without a matching increase in financial support. After starting out with half of its operating costs covered by provincial funding, the Nina eventually came to have closer to just one quarter of its costs covered. The difference had the potential to shut the Nina’s doors for good.
“As a non-profit, we were in a difficult place,” says Hollo. “We have a good relationship with the bank, but there just aren’t a lot of options for non-profits. We did manage to get a couple of credit cards, but that wasn’t quite enough to get by.”
Faced with the prospect of further cuts, the Nina came to SEF. At first, the organization accessed a small loan to cover payroll before securing a larger amount to bridge its funding gap.
“We had cut everything we possibly could, so we needed every cent of that money,” Hollo says. “It really tided us through that crisis.”
The Nina has since repaid its SEF loan in full and in recent years has enjoyed a more modest pace of growth. In 2017, the Nina opened a secondary studio in Edmonton’s Orange Hub, a city-owned centre for non-profit organizations. The space, located in Edmonton’s west end, enables the Nina to reach a wider audience while still remaining focused on its core purpose.
“We know we can’t be everything to everybody, so we’re doing one thing, and doing it well,” says Hollo. “And that is providing a place for people with disabilities to become practicing artists.”