Beckie DiLeo is not your average teacher. I discovered this when I visited a pop-up art show and jewellery sale she organized in a funky loft space in the heart of King West. Beautiful paintings, photographs and mixed media pieces created by established artists, designers and students alike, coexisted in harmony. Beckie herself is a reflection of this dynamic balance and it shows in her work as an arts educator at Central Commerce Collegiate (CCC), a vibrant, inner-city school in the heart of Toronto.
Mentorship is at the core of Beckie’s teaching practice, using art to help students not only express themselves and nurture their talent, but allowing them to gain real-world experience. I’ve known Beckie for years, as she is Toronto’s most vivacious art enthusiast, fashionista, and girl-about-town. “Everything I learned about gallivanting was passed along to me by my late Nana. She had bus trips organized for all of her sweet little old lady friends to see every musical that was shown in Toronto – I, of course, would always tag along.”
Indeed, Beckie is known to organize trips for her class to local galleries, museums and theatre shows, exposing her students to a world of culture that her students might not experience otherwise. “Many students have obligations after school – taking care of siblings or working, so they do not have the time to enjoy cultural activities,” she says, “Artists have always been encouraged to ‘think outside the box,’ so why not teach outside the classroom? Living and working in such a richly diverse, multicultural city makes exploring extremely accessible and that’s exactly what we do.” Whether it’s going on weekly walking excursions to shoot photos along College Street, Kensington Market and Trinity Bellwoods Park, or visiting Angell Gallery, THE (Thursh Holmes), Don’t Tell Mama gallery, MOCCA or Edward Day, students learn firsthand how art is created and introduced to the public.
Beckie’s classes have visited The Drake and Gladstone Hotel, attended ballets, the opera, Mirvish musicals, TIFF screenings and exhibits, and the AGO. “I was fortunate to have a Nana who had such a passion for arts and culture, and I was exposed to the sites of the city at a very young age. Many of the students at CCC live in the projects or simply do not have a Nana to take them to see Cats.”
A fashion illustrator and artist herself, Beckie is part of Walnut Studios, a King West arts collective. Through her contacts there and her connections in Toronto’s art and media world, a number of artists have been invited to instruct at CCC, teaching students about all aspects of the art business, including the “art of the hustle” and how to market themselves on social media. “The icing on the cake is having an opportunity to exhibit alongside the Walnut artists at the Spring and Winter Shows.” Beckie readily points out that none of the “contemporary programming” of her curriculum would be possible without the support of CCC’s progressive principal, Iwona Kurman.
All of these experiences will culminate in #heART this, a full-fledged art exhibition opening May 31st at Walnut Contemporary. There, students and local artists will exhibit and sell their work to raise funds for several CCC art endeavours. Tickets can be ordered online at www.WeTakeNoBull.com.
WORDS: MELISSA ALLEN
PHOTOS: MAX POWER
HAIR & MUA: SARA FRATIA
SYTLIST: KIRSTEN READER
LOCATION: CENTRAL COMMERCE COLLEGIATE
DRESS BY: GENEVIEVE LIMA
NECKLACE BY: LABORDE DESIGNS
SHOE BY: CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN AT DAVIDS