LEANARTS is an experimental pilot program designed to support promising performing arts initiatives in Toronto by introducing them to the tools and methodologies used by technology startups.

Over five weeks, teams from a variety of performing arts disciplines will work with experienced mentors and instructors to shape project ideas by applying startup techniques focussed on customer validated feedback and learning. The program is structured through a mix of collaborative weekly sessions, one-on-one mentorship and assignments.     

A program of the Performing Arts Alliance (Orchestras Canada, Professional Association of Canadian Theatres, Canadian Dance Assembly and CAPACOA, the Presenters Network) , LEANARTS is delivered by The Working Group in association with MaRS. The program will deliver valuable insights into how performing arts organizations can test their project ideas, explore new business models and improve the probability of funding.

Should I apply?

Are you passionate about creating change in the performing arts industry? Do you have a project in mind that can make that happen? Then YES, you should apply!   

LEANARTS is open to both established performing arts companies who are looking to launch sustainable new project initiatives, and to startup performing arts organizations and collectives. We are seeking applications from a range of disciplines: Opera, orchestra, theatre, dance and presenters.

Our call for projects is deliberately broad, and we are open to projects that tackle problems both extrinsic and intrinsic to the artistic process or experience.  We are also making the application process as short and straightforward as possible. 

The types of project that might be a good fit for LEANARTS could include:

  • Performance, creation or presentation-based initiatives that aim to bring your practice to a new audience segment 
  • Program-based initiatives that aim to give you new ways to connect and engage with the community  
  • Technology-based initiatives that aim to use new platforms or channels to create or distribute content
  • Business-based initiatives that aim to create new revenue streams for your organization 


  • You are interested in learning new techniques for de-risking projects and improving their chances of funding success
  • You have a particular project in mind or challenge you would like to address. Projects can focus on solving problems either extrinsic (Ex. Scheduling, parking, dining, etc) or intrinsic (a desired response) to the artistic experience or process - our scope is deliberately broad.
  • Two representatives from your project team are available to participate in the program for its duration
  • Both member and non-member organizations are invited to apply 
  • You are based in Toronto 

What will I learn? 

LEANARTS is a five-week intensive program based on the tools and methodologies used by successful technology startups.

Drawing from Steve Blank's approach to customer discovery and Alex Osterwalder's Value Proposition Canvas, the program emphasizes the importance of face-to-face interactions to help you validate your ideas and build better, more engaging solutions.

By focussing on discovery, you will make sure your audience really want what your project is proposing to deliver. LEANARTS is the place where you can establish the foundation and direction for projects that have a high probability of success. 

Through a fast-paced and active approach to customer discovery, teams will be pushed and mentored to focus on better understanding the problems faced by their audiences. Once the problem is validated, the focus shifts to understanding how your project can be the best solution.

Throughout the program, teams will receive feedback from their peers and from experienced mentors. Our goal is to foster a collaborative learning environment where attendees are expected to actively share insights, advice and find ways in which they can support one another..


When is the program taking place?

 The program duration is five weeks, beginning January 2015, and is structured through a mix of collaborative weekly sessions, one-on-one mentorship and assignments.     

  • Application period: September 1st - October 1st, 2014
  • Information Session: September 12th, 2014, 5.30pm - 7.30pm @ MaRS Discovery District, Room CR3 (101 College St)
  • LEANARTS program: January 7th - February 4th, 2015 
    Group sessions take place weekly. Teams will be expected to complete assignments and meet with their assigned mentors between these sessions. 
  • Demo night: February 13th, 2015
    Teams will pitch their projects and talk about what they've learned at a cocktail reception attended by funders, media and partner organizations 


What does the program cost?

LEANARTS is delivered at zero cost to participating teams thanks to the generous support of The Canada Council for the Arts. 


How many teams are taking part?

Up to 10 project teams will be selected for participation in this program.

Selection will be made via jury made up of representatives from our partner organizations: Opera.ca, Orchestras Canada, Professional Association of Canadian Theatres, Canadian Dance Assembly and CAPACOA, the Presenters Network.