From September 2017 to June 2018, Connie Tong ran Plate It Up, a 10-month mentorship program at the East Scarborough StoreFront serving youth aged 14 to 19 years in the Scarborough East community. The project fused culinary and ceramics arts together, and worked towards a culminating exhibition. Youth increased their food literacy and skills in order to formulate constructive dialogue on food-related issues affecting their community and using ceramics production as the artistic medium to respond to these challenges.
Where did the idea for this unique program come from? Connie shares, “The idea originated when I was completing my thesis work at OCAD University in the Material Arts and Design program. I was investigating food sustainability and the implications of our western diet and used art making practices to illustrate our relationship with food. This research led me into the community arts sector where East Scarborough Storefront connected me to two local grassroots organizations, Healthy Living through Art and Seed to Table in Kingston-Galloway-Orton Park neighbourhood. I saw an opportunity to collaborate with these two organizations, and formed the collective, Plate It Up".
Connie continues, “In Fall of 2014, we launched our program and was at full capacity thanks to the support from ArtReach and the East Scarborough Storefront. Our culinary lead from Seed to Table provided culinary instructions and skills, while the ceramic lead facilitated the creative clay portion of the workshops. We found that the beauty of these two artforms had very similar methodologies and processes, which helped youth enhance their understanding of key concepts. In 2017, we relaunched the program, thanks again to ArtReach. A few of the youth participants from the 2014 cohort were invited to facilitate and share their best practices, which was a rewarding experience for all. During the project's timeline, we collectively raised over $200 in artwork sales, organized five local community events, and fed approximately 300 people at our exhibition”.
Connie told us that the program was very successful with not only the youth participants, but also with the community as a whole. Connie tells us, “The youth responded really well with the challenge of organizing community events to raise awareness and promote the program. Over the course of 10 months, youth dedicated their time to participate in experiences that put them out of their comfort zones. The youth gained many invaluable skills such as leadership, teamwork, and communication skills to orchestrate their own community food demonstration and interactive art exhibition. The community has provided tremendous support in helping the youth participants build capacity. We were able to form relationships with our local community members who became our adult allies in supporting and providing in kind donations and removing barriers for youth participation. The East Scarborough Storefront has been a tremendous supporter and incubator for further collaboration”.
With ArtReach being the only funder for the program, we asked Connie what we were able to make possible with these funds. Connie shared, “ArtReach was the first ever grant that the Plate It Up Collective ever wrote together. We found that the process and objectives really catered to what we were trying to achieve in our community. We have tried to pitch our idea to various granting bodies, but due to the competitiveness and rigour, we felt we didn’t have the necessary tools nor confidence to succeed. We felt that ArtReach serves as an incubator for us to take risks and take a chance on seeing an idea through. ArtReach not only provided the funding and resources to help us carry out our idea, they also provided us with the intrinsic value to aspire to great things for our community by believing in us to begin with”. Connie also mentioned the personal success of the ArtReach workshops, “I have participated in many workshops which have helped with my personal and professional development. From budgeting 101, to evaluation, to branding, I valued each and every high-quality workshop delivered by industry professionals”.
Moving forward, Connie has larger plans for the program, “We are currently developing a series of smaller, mobile community workshops in partnership with Morningside Library and The Clay Emporium to expand our reach to more youth in East Scarborough. The Clay Emporium has invited us to prepare an educational lesson plan to design a series of plates that explores personal understanding of the new Canadian Food Guide”.