On April 28 2007, ArtReach Toronto hosted a meeting with the Governor General of Canada and young artists at the Whippersnapper Gallery in Toronto, a youth-run gallery funded by ArtReach. The event was an opportunity for Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean to discuss the importance of the arts in the lives of young people.
Over 100 young artists from across the City of Toronto attended the event. The Governor General participated in a discussion with invited guests on the needs of young artists and the importance of the arts in young people’s lives. The event concluded with a short set of performances by singer Mario Murray, aka The Voyce, spoken word artist Samatar and a video presentation by Schools Without Borders, all involved in projects supported by ArtReach Toronto.
“This event was an amazing opportunity for young artists to come together to share their experiences, innovative practices, and to discuss their challenges and needs with the Governor General of Canada,” said Shahina Sayani, ArtReach Program Manager. “It is important that the voices of youth are heard and that the work they are doing in our communities is valued.”
The discussion focused on the ways in which art can be used to improve life in our neighbourhoods and highlighted the critical importance of the arts as a means of expression, release, connection, and creative outlet for participants. Those in attendance included young leaders who are running arts projects that are changing lives across the city. Political representatives also attended, including Minister of Children and Youth Services Mary Anne Chambers, and representatives from cultural industries including FACTOR and the CBC.
The critical need for funding to support youth arts was central to the discussion, as well as the need for capacity building supports, and access to training, mentorship, space and production facilities.
Participants spoke of the need for more youth arts creation and performance spaces that are accessible, safe and promote creativity and community. The discussion also showed strong support for collaboration through developing stronger connections across communities and working together.
Other themes included the importance of role models and mentors, and the importance of creating opportunities for youth in a range of careers related to the cultural industries. Business and entrepreneurial skills are important for youth working in urban arts.
The message that art can save lives came through strong, as many participants told personal stories about the importance of art in their lives. As one participant put it: “Never, ever give up – when you show that you have the ability to be successful, everybody wants to jump on board.”
The Governor General is a passionate advocate for youth arts, and was moved by the discussion. She is working towards spreading the message that youth arts is important to community building, a guiding principle of ArtReach Toronto.