On Thursday October 6th, the Youth Arts Pitch Contest brought a whole new energy to the Toronto Centre for the Arts. The Contest is a signature project of the Cultural Hot Spot, which shines a spotlight on arts, culture and community in a particular neighborhood each year in order to inspire new ideas about where culture thrives in Toronto. This year’s Hotspot was North York.
The Youth Arts Pitch Contest is an annual event in which ArtReach and the City of Toronto Arts and Culture Services come together to create a space for young people to creatively pitch their projects or business ideas to an audience of their peers, for a chance to win some real money to make those ideas a reality.
The lower gallery of the Toronto Centre for the Arts quickly filled up as nearly 100 people came to support their friends, family and community members as they courageously made their way to the stage to pitch their ideas to a panel of 5 judges. This year’s judging panel was an all star lineup of artists and business entrepreneurs who were impressive in their ability in balancing supportive feedback with just the right amount of constructive criticism. The panel included cultural curator and artist, Tika Simone; singer-songwriter, Zaki Ibrahim CEO of Corex Creative, Dwayne ‘Dukez” Holness; Award winning MC, MC Ebone; and visual artist, Kofi Frempong. The judges deliberated for a good amount of time before announcing winners as the competition was indeed fierce this year.
8 contestants pitched their ideas in two different categories. For the Community Arts Project and Production category, Sashoya Simpson (Sashoya Shoya Oya) set the bar high with her pitch, pulling both audience and judges to the edge of their seats with her powerful theatrical presentation. Using a brilliant mixture of English and Jamaican Patois, Sashoya really took the crowd on a journey into her community of Jane and Finch, and how her 8 week project of bringing professional theatrical training to develop skills and explore Jamaican folkloric traditions, would greatly support the youth in developing skills and reconnecting with their cultural heritage and identity. Sashoya was met with a standing ovation and an abundance of praise. Following hers, presentations were made by Jega Delisca who came dressed to impress to pitch the Carefree Black Boy Project- a project which focuses on creating spaces where black males can explore themselves without limitation.
The Broke Gallery was pitched by Keisha Jame who intrigued the audience with her idea around providing a gallery space for emerging artists 16-35 to share their work with no cost to the artist for a one night exhibit. Finally, Cecilia Garcia presented an amazing pitch for her project Next Stages, which looked at working with newcomer youth to break down language barriers through theater and support them in navigating the City more comfortably to instill a real sense of belonging.
The Creative Business and Career Development category was just as tough, starting with Dymika Harte, CEO of UNSGND Graphics who wowed judges not only with her dynamic pitch, but also with custom hats and t-shirts with each judges logo on it; talk about a strong first impression. The uber talented Krump crew BUCC N' FLVR followed up with a hard hitting pitch complete with powerful dance moves and a support system that kept the room buzzing for the entire pitch as many members of the audience cheered and joined in on the dance cypher between the actual pitch presentation. Scarborough was definitely in the house and came to represent.
Priyome Enterprises, a business idea presented by Quentin Vercetty and Stephen Surlin, was a multifaceted pitch that supports this social enterprise offer general graphics design services specializing in 3D modeling and printing custom chess pieces as well as giving opportunities to youth to learn how to create their own chess pieces. Finally, Sydanie held it down for her peers who wear the multiple hats of both artist and parent. Her pitch included a live birthing of her dream project, Gestation, a visual and audio soundscape that connects community to Sydanie and her art from the perspective of what it means to be a young parent of color.
Once the presentations were completed and the judges went to deliberate, the nights MCs, local DJ and Supreme Hype Man, Felix “Flex of all Trades” Cabrera and Toronto Emcee Zakisha Brown entertained the crowd with raffling off cool prizes while Zakisha had the crowd moving to the beat and bars she let go on the mic.
After a very tense 15 -20 minute judging period, Kate Fraser, who coordinated the Pitch, and Andrea Raymond-Wong, Community Cultural Curator for Cultural HotSpot, prepared to hand out the giant cheques which were to be presented to the winners. The room sat in silent anticipation as winners were announced for each category. In the Community Arts Projects and Productions, Sashoya Simpson took first place and a cool $5,000, followed up by Jega Delisca received $2,000 for his project. Both Keisha James and Cecilia Garcia's projects received runner up prizes of $100 in addition to consultation sessions with Kim Katrin Milan and Yasser Pervaiz. For the business categories, Dymika Harte of UNSIGD walked away with $5,000 to support the development of her graphics and branding company, while Bucc n’ Flavor placed second and received $2,000 to support their need to create business development sessions to turn their crew into a professionally marketed dance company. Both Priyome Enterprises and Sydanie also received a $100 prize and consultation sessions with Kim Katrin Milan and Yasser Pervaiz. 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 community celebrating with one another as clean up started to take place and the Corex Creative team conducted a mini photoshoot in the main lobby with all the winners.
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. As The Youth Arts Pitch is part of that support system, ArtReach, the City of Toronto’s Arts and Culture Services, and this year Freedom Fridays as a new partner, are all proud to be a part of that system. Special thanks to the Toronto Centre for the Arts and North York Arts for their support around providing such an amazing space for young people to spend a night pitching for their dreams.
Author: Paulina O'Kieffe