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In this archive image from August 1999, Barbara Patrick concentrates while sketching a statue at St. James Park in downtown Toronto Monday afternoon. Barbara was a student at the Toronto School of Art.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto School of Art, described as "the city's longest-running independent art school," has closed its doors after 43 years of operation.

The school filed for bankruptcy protection Friday and posted notices on its doors in the morning notifying students of the closure. The action was taken in response to "declining enrolment for a number of years," said board chairman Lisa Dooher in a brief interview at the school.

At one time the TSA claimed 1,200 vocational and non-vocational students a year on its rolls but more recently that tally was fewer than 500, she said.

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A representative for Zeifman Partners Inc., the school's trustee in bankrutcy, said the TSA's board and administration "looked at all the options" before deciding "the most ethical" course was "to shut [the school] down and not incur further debts and student responsibilities." Details of the school's finances were not provided Friday.

The school, incorporated in the fall of 1969 as Art School Toronto, was not a degree-granting institution like the Ontario College of Art and Design University or the University of Toronto's department of fine art. Instead, as a not-for-profit charity/private career college, it offered a fine art diploma program, certificate programs in digital art and professional art studio development as well as artist-in-residence and portfolio development instruction. Most of its revenue came through tuition fees, donations, fundraising and fees for individual courses. (The digital art certificate program cost $4,600 for seven courses.)

With a motto of "for artists, by artists," the TSA prided itself on its accessibility to almost all ages and skill levels, relying on small classes (often no larger than 15 students), an equally small bureaucracy and one-on-one contact with instructors. Its founder, Barbara Barrett Biggs, was something of a hobby artist – she worked in oil, watercolour, batik and sculpture. She started the school with her husband, Stanley, and a handful of friends primarily as a way to boost the skills of individuals similar to herself. Over the years its instructors have included such notable artists as Andy Fabo, Harold Klunder, Moira Clark and Iris Haussler.

Prior to moving to its Adelaide Street location in 2000, the TSA occupied space in no less than four buildings, a reflection of its often straitened circumstances. A $30,000 debt in the early 1990s at its Queen St. W. location, for instance, nearly shut its doors.

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