In partnership with the City of Toronto’s Cultural Hot Spot, on Thursday October 12th, 2017, ArtReach presented the Youth Arts Pitch Contest. Over 80 people gathered to support 8 young creative entrepreneurs and community artists as they pitched their dream projects for a chance to win up to $5,000 in financial support. This year the Hot Spot shined its light on East York, and the Youth Arts Pitch was hosted by the Riverdale Community Hub, a hidden gem located just East of Greenwood on Gerard Street East.
The north gallery space of the hub was filled by 6:30pm with contestants, staff, volunteers, judges and most importantly, a strong community of onlookers who supported each contestant throughout their pitch. Hosted by the ever whimsical Britta B, the energy in the room quickly rose as each community creative worked hard to impress a lineup of judges who pushed each contestant with a strong line of questions and suggestions.
This year’s panel of judges included expert brand strategist Pauleanna Reid; Founder of MyStand Mentorship Organization, Mustafa El Amin; MLSE Foundation Coordinator for Programs and Outreach, Letecia Rose; Project manager, artist, and entrepreneur Leandra Legendre; and Program Manager at CEE and previous Torontonian of the Year nominee Shereen Ashman.
The Youth Arts Pitch incorporates 8 contestants who compete in two different categories. For the Community Arts Project and Production category, Cola Bennet opened the pitch with a passionate and heartfelt project around forgiveness and how she was planning to expand her community work (which is grounded in forgiveness via her work with the F-You: The Forgiveness Project) into prison systems to support young men who are incarcerated through her own book while encouraging these men to write and share their own stories. Following Cola, Pitch coordinator Lola Lawson verbally narrated the pitch of Sage Willow, who signed in ASL alongside her. Sage's dream project is focused on developing a film project working with deaf youth called “Privilege, Power, + Oppression in the Deaf Community.” She was met with audible and silent applause alike from the audience.
Following these two powerful presentations, we had the energetic Synergy Dance Crew, a group of 8 students from O’Connor Secondary School who shared their passion for dance and the way it has worked to connect them as a family. Their project offers a seasonal dance camp for under-served youth who have a passion for dance and may have barriers to accessing these kinds of classes. Not only was their presentation energetic and fun, transitioning seamlessly between tableau scenes, they wowed the crowd with an amazing dance number at the end.
Finally we heard from Zubaida Zang, who’s powerful visuals helped her share her passion for bringing together the art of weaving, drama and music to support young people in African countries to stay connected to their culture, remain empowered and create real economic opportunities for themselves with her powerful brand clothing brand Zubaida Zang.
The Business Development category opened with Igho Itebu who introduced us to E.G.O (Ebony Girls Obsession) Initiative. Through her initiative Igho hopes to create beautiful experiences for black women and promote black women investing in themselves. Her Self Care in Sisterhood workshop series is a monthly opportunity for up to 25 black women to come together in a curated and safe space to engage in mindfulness, conversation, networking, and simply celebrating black woman joy.
The incredible Huda Eldardiry followed Igho’s presentation, with her clothing line of basic wearable clothing, each with a unique and personal design that was inspired by the different experiences in her own life. Judges received samples of high quality pieces while they listened to Huda explain how each unique piece is made and her processes for design for her company, Held By Huda.
Following Huda, the Pitch was closed off with Balu presenting the audience with his idea for SWEETEA Consulting, a social enterprise that provides emerging artists and social justice practitioner’s capacity building and mentorship opportunities. And unfortunately due to circumstances beyond control, our fourth contestant Femi Lawson, presenting his project Tantalization Wave, was unable to attend. However with so much talent, he undoubtedly will continue to create and engage in successful opportunities in the future.
Once presentations had been completed and judges were deliberating behind closed doors, DJ Kobi J set the vibes with a mix of tunes and got folks in the space dancing out of their chairs. After a very tense deliberation period, ArtReach Director Paulina O’Kieffe and her two apprentices (her children- because it’s always a family affair at ArtReach) got prepared to hand out the giant cheques for winning contestants. The room sat in silent anticipation as winners were announced for each category, and raucous applause filled the air with each announcement.
In the Community Arts Projects and Productions Category, Sage Willow took first place and a cool $5,000, followed up by Synergy who received $1,000 for their project. Cola Bennet received a runner up prize of consultation sessions with Kim Katrin Milan and Yasser Pervaiz. For the Creative Business and Career Development category, Zubaida Zang walked away with $5,000, while Igho Itebu placed second and received $1,000 to support her own brand development and workshop series. Both Balu and Huda also received consultation sessions with Kim Katrin Milan and Yasser Pervaiz. As always, the best thing about the pitch is that every single person walked away a winner.
The energy continued long after the Pitch was over, with a dope community-celebrating photo shoot with the Corex Creative team that felt like a red carpet event, while the DJ played great tracks that led to some serious after party vibes.
The spirit of art and business entrepreneurship came alive that night and served as a reminder that young people in this city are hungry to pursue their dreams and carve their own path- they just need the support to do so. ArtReach and the City of Toronto’s Arts and Culture Services are both proud to be a part of that support system. Special thanks to the Riverdale Community Hub for their support around providing such an amazing space for young people to spend a night pitching for their dreams.