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The Tontine collective with past trustees. Photo: Tontine.

The Bourses Tontine Awards: Celebrating womxn’s creativity in Ottawa-Gatineau since 2013

By Jamie MacPherson on October 23, 2020

Generosity is both welcome and needed in our community. The Bourses Tontine Awards collective invites womxn and gender-diverse folks in creative arts in Ottawa-Gatineau to apply for a $1,000 grant. The collective is composed of five individuals who donate their time and money to fund creativity. In seven years, 25 grants and over $15,000 have been given out to support music, painting, dance, theatre, spoken word, and more. Tontine is currently accepting submissions until November 1, 2020, after which the collective will select this year’s recipient.

Members of the current Tontine Collective. Pictured from left to right: Jen, Vanessa, Emily, Jasmine. Photo: Tontine.

Being generous

Ideas travel like beams of light through the dark, illuminating individual worlds and our city. “We pool our money and efforts to provide no-strings-attached grants to local creative womxn who are doing art that enhances our community, and to support womxn and marginalized genders to express their creativity in a myriad of ways. The projects we fund require a strong community component – it’s not about receiving money to create art just for you, it’s about involving and giving back to our communities,” Tontine’s organizers told me.

Ideas motivate people to perform great acts, to make us better. “Tontine was inspired by community micro-financing initiatives (known as tontines) in Africa. Soon after visiting Cameroon in 2012, one of the co-founders reached out to some other folks who she thought would be interested in the idea of creating a new way to fund womxn’s creativity.” Out of this idea, the collective was born.

Helping others soar

Tiny steps bring others to new heights. Tiny steps aren’t tiny; they’re world-changing. Tontine’s local organizers told me that “while our grant is small, it makes a big difference to the recipients, and it enriches our community with creativity. We love being able to help people express themselves with their art. We still hear from the people we’ve funded years later, and they continue to flourish and contribute to our community. For example, someone we funded in 2018 just let us know that the book she’s writing on her transgender experience is now a visual art exhibit! She thanked us for believing in her, and there is nothing more rewarding than knowing you’ve helped in a small way by valuing someone and their creativity.”

Tontine recognized the group In Our Tongues’ significant community contribution by supporting a reading and art series showcasing under-represented Indigenous and racialized poets, writers, and musicians across the gender spectrum. “In Our Tongues later had enough funds to run their own micro-grant initiative for BIPOC artists!”

2019 Award presentation to In Our Tongues. Photo: Tontine.

Tontine also acknowledged Karen Bailey and Kim Kilpatrick for Raising Stanley, “ a collaborative, accessible, audio/visual exhibition about guide dogs and exploring identity and accessibility.” These two groups have given back to Ottawa-Gatineau, returning Tontine’s gift. In both instances, value travelled from individual to city. If changing one life changes others, then one grant helping one person reaches thousands.

Brilliant sights

Our lovely city is full of hidden gems awaiting discovery. Tontine’s submission call seeks out those who “involve and give back to our communities through the arts, to people who may, or may not, identify as professional artists, in search of grassroots creativity that might not otherwise receive arts funding. We believe creativity enhances our communities and well-being and we are honoured to enable a diversity of womxn’s voices and expressions to be heard.”

Local artist Sanita Fejzic heard the call. Fejzic opened Purple Maple Creative Studio, a shared 2SGBTLQ+ workspace in Vieux-Hull. The studio is inclusive, bilingual, trust-based and working towards zero waste. The Bourses Tontine Award supported events hosted at the studio.

One of last year’s award winner’s, Sanita Fejzic. Photo: Sanita Fejzic.

In Ottawa-Gatineau’s corners, creativity thrives. Tontine shares these moving works, every one breathtaking, each one strengthening community. Through community outreach and engagement, including both French and English-speaking communities, they select projects that “contribute to the vibrancy of the city.” Soon, another brilliant light will be awarded.

More stars

In these times, art is even more needed. Thankfully, our region has artists like community activist Ashley Grenstone, who won a 2018 Tontine grant for her book-writing project Transphoria, about her transgender experience. “It was amazing to see how she displayed her writing process in an art exhibit. It is a raw portrayal of her struggles and triumphs in life and in the writing process.” Tontine helped her; now she helps others.

Ashley Grenstone’s work, featured in To Be Continued: Troubling the Queer Archives 2020. Photo: Tontine.

And in this discord, Tontine’s work is doubly significant. “Art is life! This micro-grant supports community creativity in our region funding local initiatives that enrich Ottawa. We’ve funded a huge variety of people and projects of spoken word, festivals, music, dance, photography, poetry, painting and theatre to fill a gap in typical arts funding: womxn and genderqueer people often have a harder time accessing arts funding, as do those who are not professional artists. We also fund francophone and anglophone art projects to have a balance of supporting English and French projects,” say Tontine’s organizers.

The Tontine collective with past trustees. Photo: Tontine.

The generous life

Our everyday actions can bring about change. Tontine highlights those using art to help Ottawa-Gatineau through creative projects that engage the community in some way through their unconditional grants. While working hard to find creativity, they ensure continuity. “One of the most rewarding parts of being in the Tontine collective is seeing how the award continues to support local creativity.”

Recently, Tontine has lost a few members and requires new people to assist with their critical community service. If you wish to join their friendly, welcoming, caring, collaborative team, email tontine.awards@gmail.com.


The Bourses Tontine Awards is a micro-grant initiative to support womxn and gender diverse people in the creative arts in Ottawa-Gatineau. Run by five women who contribute their time, energy, and funds because they believe in the power of womxn’s creativity and community art, the $1000 no-strings-attached Tontine grant is awarded twice a year. Find out more at www.boursestontineawards.org, on Twitter @Tontine_og and Facebook @BoursesTontineAwards.