Formed in 2012, Illumine Media Project is an artist and community collective of youth based in St. James Town who want to contribute positively to their media environment. Illumine participants come together to create films that reflect social reality, learn about using media as a tool for fostering community dialogue, and develop the capacity to analyze how media shapes our neighbourhoods and how it affects our understanding of ourselves and our communities.
A key component of Illumine’s impact are their community film screenings. Their short films and web series have been seen by thousands of young people across Toronto in schools, community centres, and film festivals, as well as through programs offered by Wordswell. These screenings are opportunities to learn about using media as a tool for fostering community dialogue. “In neighbourhoods where systemic poverty and marginalization exist, our experience has shown how crucial it is to assist young people to understand and analyze the power structures and ideologies that underpin the media content they are exposed to”.
In 2018, Illumine was funded by ArtReach to run The Hideout Media Lab, a community based arts initiative that brought together a group of youth together from Scarborough to engage in media analysis and media creation. This workshop series gave participants the opportunity to analyze themes in Illumine Media Projects’ youth-created web series, How We Grow, in order to reflect on their own neighbourhoods and communities, as well as to create and develop their own artistic projects, through script writing, acting, filming, and recording.
“Illumine invites youth from diverse backgrounds to assume creative leadership roles in a safe space while analyzing their place in their society, community and world. We can also see the importance of the diversity of representation and locally-made content. However, the need for diversity extends beyond representation in the content Illumine creates. Seeing the creation of art and grassroots media as an aspect of service to the community allows for both young people who may not have seen themselves as ‘talented’ in the arts and for young people who may not traditionally be put in more technical roles on film sets or as editors to arise and develop these skills in an encouraging environment”.
In 2019, Illumine expanded on their first ArtReach-funded project with Illumine Media Lab. This Lab again focused on media analysis and creation, including an exploration of Illumine’s How We Grow series and offering youth the opportunity to create and develop their own films, this time running the program in their own neighbourhood of St. James Town. In collaboration with the Wellesley Community Centre and The New Common, ten youth participants developed filmmaking skills over 14 weeks and created, We’re in This Together, a narrative short about the protective nature of peer friendships in times of neighbourhood violence.
In summarizing the success of the project, the Illumine team shares, “The St. James Town Media Lab saw youth from different communities come together and reflect on narrative media and the ways in which it can challenge or change how we see reality. With time, effort, and trust, participants engaged in creative activities and explored new ways to share their experiences in the world through stories and film. They become stronger individuals and more aware community members as a result, and expressed the desire to continue working together in the future. We saw a real need for youth-focused community arts in St. James Town, as the participants were eager for new opportunities to learn and contribute to their neighbourhood”. They continue, “A huge success was the way the film allowed for greater connection and conversation in the community and opened up a larger dialogue around safety and violence, and the role of youth in supporting each other and contributing to the community”.