Photos by CRJ Photography
On February 17, Antyx Community Arts had the honour to host the Right Honourable Michaelle Jean, an amazing group of youth and community partners for conversation about the power of art to change the world. The group gathered at the West Dover Community Association to learn more about the Michaelle Jean Foundation and to discuss how youth are using arts to help create healthy, inclusive communities.
Richard Campbell, Executive Artistic Director of Antyx welcomed everyone and shared information about Antyx. He told the audience that Antyx “encourages creative approaches to addressing social issues” and that Antyx supports youth in “using art to change their lives, and change their world.”
Richard emphasized Anytx’s mission: Community Arts: Engaging. Empowering. Transforming. He talked about how these three words frame the multiple purposes of community art in working and creating with youth in Calgary. Richard talked optimistically about the opportunities for Antyx to work in new creative ways by continuously building connections between Community Groups, Youth, and Antyx.
Richard spoke about the recent passing of Lori Villebrun, President of the Antyx Community Arts Board of Directors. He talked about the shock and sadness of losing Lori as a leader and a friend and how her creative, caring life was an inspiration to all who knew her. Richard welcomed Mme. Jean with a moving gift of a small stone from Lori’s Memorial Celebration with Lori’s signature words “Love and Light” written on it.
Mme. Jean warmly welcomed everyone and expressed her appreciation and joy at being part of the conversation with youth from Calgary. She commented that she wants to bring more visibility to youth leadership and to organize youth forums to “map this youth energy for art and social change.”
Mme. Jean spoke about the importance of bringing more sustainable resources to arts-based work with youth, and that she “believes in the power of arts to create change”. She said the purpose of her Foundation is to support and validate the art work of youth and to “open spaces for more dialogue”. She talked about her belief that the Arts are a powerful way to create vibrant communities. Mme. Jean noted that: “Through the actions of art, you are saving people’s lives. Yes, art is life-changing, but you are also saving lives.”
Following Mme. Jeans remarks the group had a lively discussion about issues that were concerning youth in Calgary and how the arts can be used to make a positive difference in the community.
Youth were very active and engaged in the discussion and they started with a comment that there is a need for more support from the City of Calgary for wall painting and to “create more free walls for painting”. One young woman expressed that graffiti is misunderstood and will always be part of the city.
Another Youth commented on the effectiveness of using theatre and drama to explore the issue of sexual violence. Through character development and acting, it is a powerful way to reach young men, and that it “builds empathy in men.”
Youth who had participated in arts programs at the Calgary Youth Offender Centre talked about how they planned and performed a hip-hop event. They expressed that it was the “best week of their lives” and during that week, violent incidents did not occur - there was “no fighting.” This spoke to the power of art with youth who are considered high risk and how art is both healing and an intervention. Mme. Jean echoed this through an example of a radio project that was implemented from a Montreal prison in which inmates broadcasted music, poetry, news, and political discussion. She spoke about how transformative it was because the men had a voice and how important it is to believe in the “inner-strength” of people.
One youth spoke with clarity about how he “can’t find tools to chase my dreams” and that after he got into trouble, he starting playing basketball and trying to start a basketball team for other youth. He talked about how to channel their energy into the power of “spitting lyrics, having a mic, and playing-ball.” He also talked about working with a police officer to help other youth at risk join the basketball team and find other creative outlets.
Mme. Jean closed the conversation by reminding all present that “art is an essential resource, like water and air.” With the meeting formally finished, many youth encircled Mme. Jean very quickly, with more questions and stories to share. Their inspiration for art in the community and their excitement to share their experience of it, was palpable.