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Why Art is On Our Minds

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By Hasanika Mediwake and Alandra McKirdy

The Jane and Finch neighbourhood has long since been a community plagued by stigma and negative narrative. For decades the area has faced severe obstacles, from over-policing to lack of resources from city councillors to vitriolic and negative media coverage. Despite these struggles, a culture of joy and resilience has bloomed, giving voice to residents about the struggles that they’ve been through and how they’ve persevered. The efforts of the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) within the community prove there is positive, good work being done for the next generation. 

In collaboration with R.I.S.E. Edutainment, the AGYU started their Art on My Mind program for the youth of the Driftwood Community Centre. The performances ignited the park with original spoken word poetry, rap and music performances.

By engaging 25 young artists from the Driftwood Community Centre the gallery is providing the next generation with workshops in writing, recording and producing their own rap music as well as spoken word poetry. Allison Adley, the Collection and Education Assistant for AGYU has worked within the Jane and Finch community for years, providing and facilitating programming with a focus on hip-hop and spoken word poetry. AGYU is teaching youth how to express their emotions through words relaying the message that writing about what you are feeling is an excellent outlet and tool to manage the array of emotions youth navigate daily. The workshops are led by a team of rappers and spoken word poets from the Jane and Finch neighbourhood, allowing a connection between generations of artists from the same beginnings. Facilitating the workshops were Jameel3dn, Terence Penny, Zakisha Brown, Abdulkadir “Moose” Nur, Named Tobias, Jaselle Ricketts and Kareem Ricketts.

Not shying away from tough and hard themes, the performances moved audience members. Through themes of marginalization, empowerment, grief, mental health, love, and healing. All performers had power and intention behind their voices, engaging an audience to stand on their feet and snap-in admiration. The bravery and confidence from the young group of 20 somethings were motivating to on-lookers and even gave a few audience members the courage to perform spontaneously! 

Following the death of a very close friend, one of the facilitators gave the audience a very needed and important reminder; to feel the pain. To harness these emotions that people think are so negative; indicators of weakness- to be vulnerable and create something beautiful out of it. To the beat of Kendrick Lamar’s Alright, Zakisha Brown paid a moving tribute to her fallen friend and her journey through her grief. Getting the crowd up on their feet and moving their arms in unison to the beat of the song, singing along to the revisioned lyrics. The heart work is the hard work she stated-something that stayed with audience members long after the performance.

Residents pulled their cars over on the street to watch performances, stopped on the sidewalk and joined the audience. With the base bumping, and the crowd cheering enthusiastically and encouragingly, it wasn’t a surprise that the environment created that night was so warm and welcoming. 

Rochelle Cuningham came to the performance to support her artist-husband Veshone. An artist herself, she had no inclination to get up on the makeshift stage until she saw how welcoming the vibe was at the park that night. “I would never have gone up if the people weren’t so amazing,” she said at the end of the night. She wasn’t the only one who felt this way either. The event ran late into the evening, beyond expectations, because many community members wanted the opportunity to share their music with their community. 

R.I.S.E Edutainment (Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere)

A new partner for the 4th Arts in the Parks season, R.I.S.E. Edutainment is a youth-led organization that works to provide opportunities for youth and develop artistic skills  “opportunities and spaces for youth to develop artistically/professionally, personally, socially, and spiritually. We create safe and inclusive spaces that foster self-expression and healing through the performance arts and storytelling.” – R.I.S.E Edutainment 

R.I.S.E has planned a number of opening performances throughout the summer that highlight local talent through music and spoken word poetry. 


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