“When I’m in art class, it’s structured and they tell us what to do rather than us just being allowed to make it. At Speech Project, we were able to explore all areas of art and create projects based on our own ideas. This was a place where we were able to create freely, it served as my support group.”
This participant quote is a perfect illustration of the creativity and connections fostered through Speech Project, a zine-making program carried out in partnership with the Davenport Perth Neighbourhood Community Health Centre (DPNCHC). From August 2018 through May 2019, community artist Kendra Yee lead a group of 10 young womxn aged 14-18 through a workshop series on zine creation, identity exploration, and digital publication.
Kendra started participating formally in the graphic novel and illustration about five years ago, but was first introduced to the art form in elementary school. Identifying as someone with a learning disability who found the traditional school structure difficult to engage with, she was drawn to graphic novels for their use of combining both words and images to compose narratives. From this discovery, Kendra began to find opportunities to incorporate alternative arts-based learning structures into her daily life.
Wanting to share this with others, she began hosting workshops with organizations like the AGO, Toronto Public library, TIFF, and the Xpace Cultural Centre. This lead to her reaching out to DPNCHC and applying for ArtReach funding, making it possible to actualize her vision of creating a collaborative graphic novel with fellow community members that explored personal narratives. Kendra shares, “this program would not have been achievable without this support- it would still be a sentence scribbled in a notebook!”
The workshops were intended to support skill development in creative writing, graphic design, and visual arts, but Kendra tells us that they also “became a place to debrief about our experiences of the week, both the highs and the lows. As a group, we used art as a tool to outlet frustrations- there was a transformation of negative feelings into connective artistic expressions. Participants were able to form stories, clothing, murals, illustrations and comics that represented their narratives”. She continues, “Speech Project was a place where friendships were formed. At the end of the workshops, we’ve all become a tight group of friends. In the final publication, we can see all the hidden jokes, vulnerable moments, and the beautiful memories that are wrapped up within the pages. A sense of collective knowledge has prospered”.
And the success of the project wasn’t just felt within the participant group, but extended to the community as well. Kendra shares, “There has been an overwhelming response of support from the community. Local libraries and bookstores have really embraced the project. We are currently in contact with a variety of independent bookstores to display the final publications. DPNCHC even extended the program for an additional 10 weeks!”
When asked what was next for the Speech Project, ArtReach was told, “We’d really like to connect this program beyond the comic book community and cross over into other art forms. There are so many alternative ways to deconstruct academic teachings through art and self-expression. I’d like to have other guest artists talk about the ways they incorporate art into the everyday, and explore all areas of the creative industries. I’d like to apply for additional funding and create another publication to document the program, and have it focused not on just comic narratives but, a variety of art forms”.
ArtReach looks forward to seeing the amazing places the Speech Project will go. Learn more about Kendra and the Speech Project on Instagram: instagram.com/speech.project/