Updated: Mar 31, 2020
In May 1991, Allen Sutterfield began The Art Bar Poetry Series from a side room of the Gladstone Hotel called the Art Bar, hosting and organizing for the first two-and-a-half years. Although the series has changed venues over the last thirty years, it is still known as the Art Bar.
Leadership passed to Allan Briesmaster in 1994 and an advisory board was established to provide experience and input from a broad base of Toronto’s poetry community. At this time the Art Bar had two (sometimes three) featured readers each week, except on the last Wednesday of each month when the Art Bar hosted theme nights such as Poetry and Painting, Latin American, East Indian, Chinese or Hungarian poetry. As many as seventy people attended each of these events.
In January 1996, with Pierre L’Abbé as Artistic Director, the Art Bar moved to the Csarda Restaurant on Elm Street, and the series became an important contributor to Toronto’s cultural scene. In December of the same year, the Art Bar celebrated its fifth anniversary with a fundraiser at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Twenty-four poets participated in this event and were published in ars poetica, a selection of their poems with artwork. The event drew an audience of over 200.
In 1997 the Art Bar relocated to the Imperial Pub Library and became a non-profit corporation within the Province of Ontario. On March 25, 1998 the Art Bar held a second fundraiser, Art Bar Pop, again at the AGO, in conjunction with the Gallery’s spring show, The Warhol Look/Glamour Style Fashion. We published and sold a book, ART BAR POP, which contained the work of contributing poets.
In 1999, Allan Briesmaster resumed the role of Artistic Director, assisted by Pierre L’Abbé and eight other members who hosted the readings on a rotating basis. The average audience size was around fifty, and by this time the Art Bar had developed a national reputation. In December, readings from the Art Bar’s ‘Poems of the Century Night’ were broadcast on CIUT FM.
In February, 2000, Afua Cooper hosted the Art Bar’s first Black History Night. This has remained an annual event, hosted and organized by former Art Bar board member Rudyard Fearon. In March, 2000, the Art Bar held an Al Purdy Night, with a video produced by Alison Hancock. Dennis Lee, other local poets, and Susan Musgrave (on video), gave testimony to Al’s influence and lasting-legacy to an audience of over 100.
In January, 2001, to mark its 10th anniversary, the Art Bar launched a 48-page anthology of members’ work, published as a fundraiser by Hidden Brook Press. In June, 2001, the Art Bar held a Ted Plantos Night, a moving memorial and tribute to the late poet. A tape of the event was broadcast on CIUT FM. In April, 2001, the Art Bar moved to a new venue, the Victory Café on Markham Street, where it remained for more than six years.
In 2002, David Clink took over from Allan Briesmaster as Artistic Director of the Art Bar.
In summer 2005, Phlip Arima assumed the title, remaining with the series until September 2006. The Art Bar was jointly managed by all of its board members until 2012, when Stephen Humphrey became Chair.
In August, 2007, the Art Bar moved to Clinton’s, located on Clinton Avenue in the Bloor and Christie area, and the move was celebrated with the establishment of the popular Poetry and Music Night.
In May, 2011, the Art Bar celebrated its milestone 20th Anniversary with a special event hosted by Art Bar founder Allen Sutterfield, featuring previous Art Bar team members and readers. In August, 2011, the Art Bar moved to Pauper’s Pub. However, after some issues with bookings at Pauper’s, the Art Bar was offered a home at a new literary and cultural hub, Q Space, on College Street, and moved there in January, 2013. Then, due to financial difficulties, Q Space was forced to close and the Art Bar moved to The Black Swan Tavern on Danforth Avenue near Broadview on September 3, 2013. The Art Bar remained at this venue until June 28, 2016, when the Art Bar ‘closed down’. This was felt as a loss in the poetry community and soon enough a new team surfaced to organize and re-start the series.
On September 6th the Art Bar re-opened its doors at the Free Times Café on College Street to a packed house. Since then the Art Bar has enjoyed a consistent audience turn-out and Open Mic participation.