Art Starts is Stepping Up!

Art Starts presents the One Love Step Group

Stepping up with step-dancing!

Step Up! is a program that began in early 2014 as a response to the youth in the Lawrence Heights and surrounding areas who were clamouring to learn the art of stepping. As a part of our continued commitment to the residents in these neighbourhoods Art Starts was able to provide a space within the Yorkdale Community Arts Centre where youth from 7-18 can learn choreography, create dance pieces to perform and learn the social skills essential for success.

The program also addresses concerns of community tension and conflict among the youth and provides a bridge for them to connect.  The Step Up program is providing a platform to unify the neighbourhoods of Neptune, Jungle and Champlain around the art of dance. explains Alicia Clarke program manager for Art Starts‘ Lawrence Heights neighbourhood.

A collaborative effort, Art Starts has been working with Toronto Parks & Recreation youth coordinator Shukri MohamedToronto Community Housing mentor Teisha Mullings and youth leader Lashay Cadore along with Black Action Defence Committee youth outreach worker Hasha Alexander to finally bring this offering to the youth. “It almost makes you forget the overwhelming tensions that exist between their neighbourhoods” says Shukri.This initiative has been in the minds of front line workers in these communities for a long time“.

“Some of the challenges that the group of mostly young women are dealing with surface in their social interactions” says Teisha who provides a fresh perspective to the youth by encouraging them to curb behaviours that reinforce negative stereotypes and adopt more empowering habits.
The expectation of the youth in the program is respect, love and positivity,” stresses Alicia, which the group has embraced as they came together and named their team the One Love Step Group.

Inspiringly the youth have gotten so involved and been so committed after working with famed dance instructor Hollywood Jade they have organized the group with team jerseys and have been applying to perform in local stepping competitions. Currently preparing for their first performance on May 17th at the 2nd Annual Girls Power Leadership Conference, which aims to empower young girls discover their individual identity, tenacity and creative gifts, the group is eager and talented and ready to take the stepping world by storm!

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Art Starts Speaks

North Toronto Forum on Income Inequality

On Thursday Mar 20th Art Starts participated in a forum on income inequality organized by MPP Mike Colle. The panel of speakers featured Art Starts‘ own Managing Director Liz ForsbergShelly Zuckerman Executive Director of the North York Community HouseAnette Chawla of North York Harvest Food Bank and Virgina Mills of Voices for a Just Society with the Keynote by Trish Hennessy, the Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.  Trish kicked off the event by speaking passionately about income inequality and challenged the audience with reducing that gap through social citizenship instead of individualistic ideals.

In her address to the crowd our very own  Liz Forsberg expanded upon the ways in which Art Starts helps to mitigate income inequality through the arts. The first step, according to Liz was to be able to “imagine our ideal world,” which is made easier with expression through the arts. Tangible impacts like employment and other income generating opportunities for youth and professional artists provided through our programs have been the catalyst for change amongst the neighbourhoods we work in and beyond, Liz explained. As a recent example Liz highlighted the transformational nature of our bike building program which, upon completion, saw youth gain a sustainable form of transportation and employable skills that could be used to increase opportunity and income.

We were very happy to get the chance to participate in this great town hall event as it is so encouraging for us to gather together with other community organizations in this city and see the real changes and valued conversations around ending income inequality.

The Power of Collaboration

At Art Starts we were excited when the opportunity arose to work with past partners For Youth Initiative (F.Y.I.) and North York Community House (NYCH) to collaborate on  Voicing Our Ideas for Change & Empowerment (V.O.I.C.E.) a March Break program for newcomer youth.

The spark for the program started with Ejay Tupe, Youth Case Leader at F.Y.I. who had been working with ESL students in an after school program and saw a need in the community. He was able to connect with Amy Forristal, Youth Leadership Development Worker at North York Community House who had a plan for a March Break program and was searching for partners. We at Art Starts joined the team with our roster of professional community-minded artists and the V.O.I.C.E program came together. Art Starts Program Manager Carleen Robinson, said about the partnership “We [had] the same goals why not pool resources?” a sentiment echoed by Ejay Tupe and Amy Forristal who saw the partnership as “natural” and a “window of opportunity”. Collectively Art Starts, FYI and NYCh were able to enrich the entire experience for all involved.

We [had] the same goals why not pool resources?”

Taking a multi-arts approach the youth got to work with a variety of media from plaster masks to drumming and textile art amongst other mediums. The  focus was on collaboration whether from the Philippines, Burma, Afghanistan or St. Lucia to create artistic magic. One of the youth, Anna from Germany, said that the arts part of the program didn’t interest her much but that she was excited that she had a place to make friends and learn English. Conversely another youth Jessica, expressed that her love for poetry drew her to the program but she is enjoying the other arts that she’s gotten an opportunity make.

In a room where youth were from China, Mexico, Nepal, Sierra Leone and Somalia, English was still new as their second language but art was a way for the youth to speak to one another and express themselves.  Amy Forristal, one of the program partners from North York Community House told us that Luda (one of her most shy youth) is always the first to participate. Instead of the regular ESL classes Luda among others was engaging in a space creatively and learning communication simultaneously. This program brought to light just how powerful art is as a medium of communication and what happens when we do it together.