“I have never felt so open and comfortable exploring the different ways of art. This is the first time I’ve truly felt my voice and expressed without fear or hesitation”, shares a program participant of HARVEST. “My performance and presentation has dramatically improved. Bringing validity and power to my words, and intentionality to my music as well”, echoes another. A third notes simply and powerfully: “I feel like my inner poet has woken”. Not surprisingly, project participants have commented about the need for opportunities ‘like this’.
From September to November 2018, artists and project coordinators Majd Sayed and Virginia Jahyu facilitated HARVEST, a youth-led interdisciplinary arts series that offered strength-based creative cultivation to a group of youth from Black, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ communities across the GTA.
Held in Regent Park, this project offered both access to an anti-violent art space and politically conscious creative exploration to a group of youth who are often systemically denied these services. Through HARVEST, youth developed creative arts skills (specifically in performing arts and creative writing), gained the opportunity to develop a strong support network, and were able to increase their sense of belonging, well-being, and creative confidence.
How does a project like this start? Majd, a displaced AFAB non-binary queer Palestinian artist, and Virginia, a queer, second-generation East Asian Canadian artist and poet, met at a training program for Expressive Arts Therapy. At that time, the two held a deep interest in creating safe spaces for marginalized, queer identified peoples, particularly low-income Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour. Majd and Virginia came up with an idea to carry out the work of expressive arts in the communities they both belong to- poetry and social justice was a path that fit the objective of community arts empowerment, and with that in mind, HARVEST was born.
From there, the search began for financial support via grants to carry out their idea of offering an intermodal arts workshop series, leading them to ArtReach. “Without this financial backing, we would not have been able to rent a space, provide meals, offer tokens, or provide quality art supplies. This gathering of BIPoC, queer youth was made possible by ArtReach”, states Majd and Virginia. After receiving this grant and partnering with Springtide Resources and The Create Institute, the program was ready to launch.
Looking at the effect the program has had on participants and community members, Majd and Virginia reflect, “We have received largely positive and supportive feedback from the community. Participants expressed their desire to use the creative activities they learned at HARVEST in their personal life and share it with friends. Throughout the six weeks, participants became more confident in their own artistic and creative abilities as well as their willingness and desire to share their art work. This created an extremely inspired and non-judgmental space for community art and expression that was not there at the beginning of the project”.
So what’s next for HARVEST? Since wrapping up the series in December, Majd and Virginia have entered a time of reflection and review before making decisions on any future programming. However, they shared that, “after the completion of the project, a couple of the youth participants organized a poetry and art gathering night where they facilitated some of the activities we learned together at HARVEST within their own communities and friend groups”. From this, it’s clear that however Majd and Virginia decide to proceed, the spirit of the creative fire stoked through HARVEST and the desire to continue supporting one another in the artistic development process will carry on.