Fire at Walnut Studios leaves dozens of Toronto artists devastated


Fire at Walnut Studios leaves dozens of Toronto artists devastated

Thousands of dollars worth of art destroyed as shared studio space goes up in flames

Dozens of Toronto artists have lost thousands of dollars of artwork after an early morning weekend fire severely damaged a west end studio, but they are hoping to find a temporary space in which to regroup. ( Christopher Mulligan/CBC)

Dozens of Toronto artists have lost thousands of dollars worth of work after a weekend fire gutted a well-known west end studio.

Ilene Sova, the artistic director of Walnut Studios, says she sobbed when she heard the news about the fire, which broke out early on Saturday. The studios, located in a large warehouse at 83 Walnut Ave. that was once a canning factory, were home to a “family” of some 45 artists, Sova said.

“I’m inconsolable,” Sova told CBC Toronto on Monday.

“For me, it was just horrifying to think about these artists and what they have lost, the amount of hours, the amount of work, the materials, their equipment. How do you replace that?”

Nobody was injured in the blaze, and Toronto Fire says there’s no evidence to suggest it was suspicious. The affected artists are now looking for a new space to work.

“For the past few days, what we’ve been trying to do mentally is really focus on the fact that it happened at a time when no one was in the building, which is very lucky,” Sova said.

walnut-studios-fire (1)
This artwork by Jamie Macrae was destroyed in the fire. (Jamie Macrae )

Painters, sculptors, fashion designers, jewelry makers, photographers and installation artists used the building, which had two main studios connected by a hallway and loft space. The studios are also home to Blank Canvases, an in-school arts program in which artists teach Toronto District School Board and Toronto Catholic District School Board students, and smoke severely damaged its office space, Sova said.

Some artists had between 20 and 30 artworks still in the space, many of which were damaged. Many art supplies, pieces of equipment and the workspaces themselves were also badly damaged.

Sova said she can’t put a dollar figure on what went up in flames, but the artists have launched a GoFundMe campaign so they can keep making art.

walnut-studios-fire (2)
Here is a view of damage from inside the building. (Facebook)

She said many artists had been storing artwork there in preparation for numerous upcoming events, including the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair, Riverdale Art Walk, and Queen West Art Crawl.

“They were building a huge body of work in their spaces and it was all destroyed,” she added.

More than 50 firefighters needed to tame the blaze

Sova said Jason Martins, the building owner who lives near the studios, told her he woke to the smell of smoke. Martins called 911, but by the time fire crews arrived they had to go through the roof to tackle the blaze.

walnut-studios-fire (3)
A few windows were knocked out by the fire. Toronto firefighters were called to the scene at 6: 21 a.m. on Saturday. They arrived two minutes later and the fire was brought under control by 8: 20 a.m. (Christopher Mulligan/CBC)

Firefighters were called to the scene at 6:21 a.m. by a report of smoke coming from front windows, according to Toronto Fire District Chief Stephan Powell. Firefighters arrived two minutes later and part of the one-story building was already engulfed in flames.

“When we got there, there was thick yellow smoke at the corner of King and Niagara Streets,” he said on Monday.

The majority of the fire was quickly knocked down and it was brought under control by 8:20 a.m., but firefighters remained on the scene until nearly 3 p.m. to monitor hotspots.

walnut-studios-fire (4)
Fire, smoke, and water damaged artwork, art supplies, equipment and workspaces in the building. (Facebook)

About 50 to 60 firefighters worked on the fire with the help of about 15 trucks. The cause is not known, and investigators are trying to determine where exactly it began and how it started.

“There was extensive smoke damage and considerable fire damage to a portion of the building,” Powell said.

Community helping out

walnut-studios-fire (5)
These artists are affected by the Walnut Studios fire. Left to right, Ursula McDonnell, portrait and abstract painter; Johana Cordero, textile and fashion designer; Rob Croxford, painter; Katrina Schaman, abstract landscape artist; and Kristyn Watterworth, painter. (Jasmin Seputis/CBC)

Sova says there’s been an outpouring of support from Toronto’s arts community.

Coun. Mike Layton has been trying to find new temporary spaces for the group to keep the community together, she said, while a schedule will be created to allow the artists back into the building when possible to retrieve belongings.

“Throughout the day, we were just managing the crisis in terms of communicating with the artists, letting them know what was going on and figuring out what our next steps are,” Sova said.

Walnut Studios@WalnutStudios

“We’re feeling really positive and comforted by the community and the city of Toronto that has kind of gathered around us in the past 24 hours,” she said.

“It’s really touched us and made us feel like we can come out of this and not be so desolate, that we have resources, and the broader Toronto family is going to help us kind of rise like a Phoenix out of the ashes.”

Arts Center’s former director issued special deal


Arts Center’s former director issued special deal

Tatiana Flowers – May 21, 2018
Christina Brusig
The former executive director of the Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts was issued a restorative justice agreement contract last month, a commitment that gives an accused person the option to perform various tasks like community service and paying fines, instead of going to trial or entering a plea deal.

According to Garfield County Court documents, Christina Brusig, who had pleaded not guilty last December to misdemeanor theft charges, is ordered to write letters of apology to the community and to those harmed by the closing of the arts center.

She must also complete 50 hours of community service, and pay a $2,000 fine to the 9th District Attorney, to be handed over to the Glenwood Springs Arts Council, according to the agreement.

The document says she will communicate with her family once a week to repair harm to them, adding that she has since moved to Wyoming to receive counseling and repair any personal damage.

Deputy District Attorney Jill Edinger said that the idea of a restorative justice agreement is to give an accused person the opportunity to rebuild ties to their community, adding that she, a district attorney, and a host of people harmed by the crime were responsible in crafting the list of responsibilities.

The document lists reverberations of the crime as: destruction of the arts council, which has served the community for more than 35 years, loss of the Center for the Arts building, loss of employment for staff and teachers, and the unquantifiable impact on hundreds of students, whose classes were interrupted or terminated as a result of the closure of the center.

According to the contract, Brusig must check in with a facilitator at the DA’s office once a week to note her progress.

She’s scheduled to reappear in court on July 30 for a status conference, which will determine her compliance.

If all tasks are not completed by Aug. 31, the case will go to trial.

A two-day trial had been scheduled for the end of last week but was canceled in lieu of the restorative justice agreement.

The 31-year-old Brusig was charged in November 2017 with misdemeanor theft, after months of investigation into the arts organization’s finances.

The statute defines Class 1 misdemeanor theft as theft of between $750 and $2,000, punishable by up to 18 months in jail and up to $5,000 in fines.

According to documents in the case, in January 2017, the center’s board confronted Brusig with concerns about mismanagement of the nonprofit’s finances.

Eventually, the board told her that she could either resign or be terminated, according to Kate McRaith, the former art center board president.

McRaith said last August that Brusig had consistently presented a positive picture of the organization’s finances. But after her departure in early April, the board started finding hard numbers on the art center’s debt and unpaid bills.

The city of Glenwood Springs, which partially funded the Center for the Arts, paid the executive director’s salary, and leased the former city hydroelectric building to the organization, had its own concerns and launched a police investigation.

The arts board said in late April that the operation owed $68,000, but had only $5,000 in assets.

The books were in disarray, and the art center couldn’t pay its teachers. The city soon announced it was pulling its $50,000 annual funding for the arts center. The nonprofit began negotiating with the city to try to remain intact.

An audit completed in June found $4,789 in “likely unauthorized” expenses, another $5,937 in expenses that may have been unauthorized, and $9,455 worth of payroll and other reimbursements to Brusig that auditors said required further explanation.

Brusig told the Post Independent at the time that all the expenses detailed in the auditor’s report had been approved by the board.

The city ended up agreeing to pay art center teachers more than $20,000 after they’d gone for months without pay. That agreement, however, required the art center to end its contract with the city and vacate the building.

In an unrelated matter, Brusig pleaded guilty last April to felony check fraud in Eagle County District Court, in exchange for a deferred sentence. She had been charged with check fraud earlier that year, after her landlord, who resided in Eagle County, reported that she had written about $18,000 in bad checks after going about nine months without paying rent.

In that case, if she successfully completes two years’ probation for the deferred sentence and paid restitution in that time period, her guilty plea would be withdrawn and the case dismissed, prosecutors said.

It is unclear what will happen with that previous charge in light of the additional theft case.

The Glenwood Arts Council has since reorganized and has been working to regroup with new program offerings. The city has also taken over some art classes through its recreation programming, and the Summer of Music has reorganized as its own separate entity.

Girl, 17, plotted grenade attack on British Museum, court told


Girl, 17, plotted grenade attack on British Museum, court told

Safaa Boular allegedly began to plan terrorist attack after her Isis militant fiance was killed in Syria


A teenage girl plotted to launch a gun and grenade attack on the British Museum after her attempts to become a jihadi bride were thwarted, a court heard.

Safaa Boular was 17 when she allegedly decided to become a “martyr” after her fiance, an Islamic State militant was killed in Syria.

She was so determined to attack London that she enlisted the help of her older sister after she was charged with planning to go to Syria, the Old Bailey heard on Thursday.

Rizlaine Boular, 21, had already admitted planning an attack in Westminster, that was allegedly to involve knives, with the alleged help of their mother, Mina Dich, 43, the jury was told.

Duncan Atkinson QC, prosecuting, told how Safaa Boular’s alleged plotting followed a failed attempt to marry the Isis member Naweed Hussain.

The couple declared their love for each other in August 2016, after three months of chatting on social media, the court heard.

Atkinson told jurors Boular wanted to join Hussain in Syria where they would carry out an attack. He said: “Their plan then was that together they would, as Hussain put it, depart the world holding hands and taking others with them in an act of terrorism.”

The court heard Rizlaine Boular had also tried to go to Syria two years before.

After Safaa Boular’s plan was uncovered, she allegedly switched her attention to Britain, keeping contact with Hussain through the encrypted messaging service Telegram.

The security services deployed specially trained officers to engage in online communication with them, jurors heard.

Atkinson said: “It was clear that Hussain had been planning an act of terrorism with Safaa Boular in which she could engage if she remained in this country. Both Hussain and Safaa Boular talked of a planned ambush involving grenades and/or firearms.”

She also told an officer posing as an Isis militant that all she needed was a “car and a knife to get what I want to achieve”, the court heard.

Atkinson said: “Based on her preparation and discussion, it appears she planned to launch an attack against members of the public selected largely at random in the environs of that cultural jewel and most popular of tourist attractions, the British Museum in central London.”

An attack would have caused at least widespread panic and was intended to cause injury and death, the court was told.

When she learned Hussain had been killed in April 2017, Boular’s determination was strengthened, the court heard. She was allegedly encouraged by her mother and sister to become a “martyr”.

But within days, she was charged with planning to go to Syria and was unable to carry out her “chilling intentions”, Atkinson told the court.

He said: “However, that those intentions were not just chilling but sincere and determined is demonstrated by the fact that she did not abandon them even when she was unable to put them into effect herself. Rather, she sought to encourage her sister Rizlaine to carry the torch forward in her stead.”

Atkinson told jurors that Rizlaine Boular, of Clerkenwell, central London, had admitted preparing acts of terrorism, which was apparently to be a knife attack in Westminster.

Safaa Boular, now 18, who lived at home with her mother in Vauxhall, south-west London, denies two counts of preparing acts of terrorism.

The trial continues.