‘Devastating’ robbery clears out St. James Town centre’s musical instruments, equipment

Two hundred kids in St. James Town and the surrounding area risk losing their music training after the arts centre was robbed of its portable instruments and electronic equipment on Monday.

The centre’s full supply of 14 guitars, 10 violins and flutes were taken, along with sound and video equipment, said Sarah Patrick, executive director of the Cabbagetown Community Arts Centre (CCAC), in an interview on Wednesday.

She was first alerted to the break-in when she got a call from a neighbour who found a door open and window broken on July 22, she said.

“It was very surprising to me that they would just take everything,” she said. “It’s terrible … these are instruments that we need for the children to have when they come back in September.”

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About 200 kids attend the centre weekly for lessons in drums, guitar, saxophone, piano, violin and vocal, and to take part in theatre and art classes. Without replacing the instruments and equipment, the centre risks being unable to reopen, she said.

David Blackmore, who founded the organization in 1979, said, “It’s devastating for the centre and they’re going to have to hustle to get instruments in time for the fall program.”

The robbers appeared to be well organized and knowledgeable of the local area to be able to pull it off without anyone noticing, Blackmore said.

Instruments taken at arts centre
MISSING MUSIC: Guitars, violins and flutes, as well as sound equipment on the shelves, were taken in the break-in on July 22.

“It indicates they don’t have morals,” he said. “Especially if they knew it was a centre for kids, which obviously it was because it’s on the sign on the front of the building.”

Police were notified but have released no information on the incident yet.

Patrick, who has been at the centre for 20 years (10 as a piano teacher and 10 as director), said she immediately posted an item on her Facebook page to ask for support. The centre needs both instruments donations and financial donations to replace the equipment, “so we can stay open,” she said.

A GoFundMe page has been set up with a goal of raising $20,000 under the title “Please Help Us Replace Our Stolen Instruments.” As of Wednesday evening, $1,660 has been raised.

Facebook posts asking for support have flooded local music-related groups, with some receiving hundreds of messages of support and condemnation of the thieves. Local musicians are searching online for unused instruments that could be donated to the CCAC.

Cabbagetwon Community Arts Centre building
SPACE AVAILABLE: The centre is looking to share its building with a charity to help cover the rent.

Students of CCAC were planning a 40th-anniversary performance at the Cabbagetown Festival in early September, a performance that is now in jeopardy.

The theft is a major blow to the centre that struggles to stay afloat at the best of times. The CCAC survives on an annual budget $240,000 gathered from grants, charities, individual and corporate donors, and fundraisers.

It is also looking for a charity to share its space on Parliament Street and help cover the rent.

“Every year it’s like, are we going to open again this year?” Patrick said. “We need some support and Toronto being the richest city in Canada, I think, it would be really nice to get that support.”

Blackmore, who started the program 40 years ago in a house basement with 25 students, said, “I think everyone knows how important music is for kids — it’s not a priority in the school system now — especially for kids in poverty.”