This weekend, I had the honor of conducting an interview with six young women, united by their passion for the arts and their drive to see a positive change in the community.
These women- Robin Sutherland, Candace Neveau, Rihkee Strapp Tracy Fraser, Shannon Moan and Jessica Bolduc- compose Thinking Rock Community Arts, a determined collective of artists and team leaders motivated by the immensely positive impact that involvement with the arts can have on people, especially the youth.
I conducted my interview over the phone in something I’ve described as a “caravan interview” as Robin, Candace, Rihkee, Tracy, Shannon and Jessica were en route to Ottawa to present at the National Arts forum, to discuss their achievements in hosting cross-cultural local gatherings for youths, youth organizers and adults alike through the support of the provincial Youth Social Infrastructure Collaborative, or YSI. After awkwardly stumbling with an app I downloaded to record phone calls (a miserable failure) and being met with a resounding chorus of “awwwww”s when I confessed that this was my first interview, I soldiered forth, asking a few questions, which Candace Neveau was so kind as to answer on behalf of everyone.
As summed up in a brief mission statement by Robin Sutherland, artistic director of Thinking Rock Community Arts and bastardized (though I prefer “paraphrased”) by yours truly, the joint goal of YSI and Thinking Rock is to accelerate and amplify youth art engagement, creating healthier communities and stronger individuals.
The idea is to achieve a wider awareness of the importance of community and identity; and how involvement in the arts can bridge the gaps of social/economic barriers, mental illness and other pressing issues prevalent amongst our local youth. I have Robin quoted here as telling me that “art provides communication, freedom, creativity, expression and collaboration”.
These six youth hosted their first gathering in May of this year in Mississauga First Nation, dubbed ‘Let’s Build a Fire”. The gathering, attended by innumerable youth and adults, brought forth the opportunity to come together and discuss without fear some of the pressing issues mentioned beforehand that they themselves have experienced, such as isolation (social and geographic), homelessness, suicide, addictions, and discrimination based on race, gender and sexuality. Funding for the initiative was provided by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Laidlaw Foundation and the Michaëlle Jean Foundation.
Because of their power to instill a voice in those uncomfortable speaking, the arts will always be of crucial importance and permanent relevance. If I can get away with a moment of vanity to interject my own personal bias, I stand as living proof to this sentiment. A diagnosed and medicated sufferer of major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder myself, my own involvement in the arts was paramount to my personal growth, resulting ultimately in my steady control of these illnesses. Having been heavily involved in local theatre for many years, the strength and pervasiveness of the friendships I’ve formed through theatre have saved my life in more ways than one. I give the same credit to my discovery and burning passion for both filmmaking and poetry.
Abandoning completely the cold, detached professional pretense of conventional journalism and throwing my own opinion out there, I can say with utmost confidence that I can’t give enough praise and support to these women for what they are doing. I believe that the painter and the poet are of equal value to the doctor and the architect and that everyone, at some point in their lives, should embrace the arts and try to be creative themselves. Paint a picture! Write a poem! Do a little song and dance! Whatever you decide you need to do to make your voice your own and have it be heard, there are always people that will support that.