2020 Grantee Profile: Joshua Watkis
Updated: Mar 5
Filter Through Skin
Created by the renowned poet Joshua Watkis out of a desire to share his faith in the power of storytelling, Filter Through Skin is a program that focuses on the oral tradition of spoken word poetry, written arts, and performance art for Black youth aged 14-24 in the Rexdale, Weston Road, and Dixie Road communities. The project centered on providing participants with opportunities to develop their artistic voice, with a focus on expanding the current narratives around Black identities, and helping them to break out of the focus on Black pain that permeates the arts. Watkis explains that "in doing so, they may relieve themselves of the burdensome expectations of communicating Blackness solely through the explanation of trauma and oppression". The program was crafted to assist Black youth artists in genre-bending styles of poetry and sharpen their use of advanced literary devices while they "unearth a cultural movement towards honest Black Art".
Mission and Values
Watkis shares that his vision for the project is "to meet the dire need for nuanced, non-monolithic Black art". To do this, he works to create spaces that are completely Black-led, supported, and focused in order to create an environment where participants could develop their own definitions of what a Black storyteller can achieve and create. Watkis goes on to describe an issue in the arts that Word is Bond aims to address: that "Black artists are rarely rewarded for their ability to speak on their lives outside the lens of racism. And while race is a factor in every facet of life, it is just that, a factor. They need a space where the creation of that work can be encouraged and then shared with confidence". He further explains that through the project, "participants were challenged to develop work that was nuanced and true to their personal nature, rather than creating work that was filtered through a lens that needed to translate the Black experience to non-Black people".
Originally set to be run in person but modified to a virtual program to reflect the realities created by the pandemic, the 2020 ArtReach-funded program was led by Watkis himself, an incredible artist sitting on nearly a decade of performance and mentorship experience. The program introduced youth to advanced uses of literary devices as well as performance techniques, and culminated in participants performing in a final showcase at the 2020 Roots Lounge Open Mic and Poetry Slam run by Up From the Roots. When referencing the ways participants benefited from the program outside of their artistic skill-building, Watkis shares that "The participants of Filter Through Skin became a close community, developing both communal and interpersonal relationships. They became a community of artists sharing events and opportunities, but also became friends outside of art".
Meet Joshua Watkis
In 2013, Watkis began competing in National Youth Poetry Slams (YouthCan Slam) and by 2014 competed in the national adult scene twice (Canadian Individual Poetry Slam & Canadian Festival of Spoken Word). He notes that seeing the difference in competition and attitudes made him want to create and sustain spaces that were specifically catered to youth. To do this, he joined the BAM! Youth Slam Board of Directors in 2015 as a way to serve youth poets and connect them to larger artistic opportunities. Since then he has worked with several community arts organizations (in and out of schools) such as Urban Arts & Just BGraphic, served on ArtReach's Grant Review Team from 2017-2020, and currently runs two branches of the Poetry Saved Our Lives program with the Toronto Public Library. These are in addition to workshops and mentorship Watkis provides of his own volition to youth interested in pursuing the arts as a career path.