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How Raising Artists is Encouraging Creativity and Imagination

Raising Artists is an art program designed for children and parents held in SKETCH at Artscape Youngplace and the Centre for Social Innovation (Regent Park) at Daniels Spectrum. We spoke with CEO and founder, Alessandra Moretti, to learn more about how Raising Artists nurtures creativity, imagination and self-expression.

 

Artscape: How did Raising Artists come to be?

Alessandra: One day, I was challenged to think about how I could combine my two dearest passions: children and art. I thought about the environment I was raised in and how art was part of that, and had a lasting effect on my life. Then, I thought about children who are denied opportunities to experience art, and an idea emerged. What if we created a parent-and-child based program, where all participants could experience the joy of the creative process?

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How do you see the vision of Raising Artists in action?

We have had the pleasure of meeting many students and parents; they come to our workshops and return home with myriad new art techniques. Parents tell me all the time how their child uses our class techniques and set-up at home when they paint. This warms my heart and really hits home that what we are doing in the studio is being absorbed by the children. I see them develop confidence in their art and continue to explore their creativity at home. These are skills they can take with them forever.

“We breathe inspiration into each project and let them run wild with it. The end product is one which inspires awe in all of us.”

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Raising Artists clearly believes in the transformative power of creativity. Can you speak more about that?

Deep inside of each of us is a still pool of creativity.  Raising Artists attempts to create a whirlpool in that still pool by promoting imagination as a guiding force, suggesting ideas and teaching the participant to transfer the intangible onto canvas. In this environment we do not allow self-criticism, encouraging artists to hit the reset button on how they see themselves and interpret beauty.

How has Raising Artists been a tool of self-expression or creativity for your team?

The budding artists at Raising Artists have taught me to approach art and life from all angles. There is no one route to beauty; there is no one way to create; there is no one method of design. It is not a one-size-fits-all world, but it is a world that fits all sizes.

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What risks have you taken to establish Raising Artists? Do you have any advice for starting a creativity-oriented business for other entrepreneurs and small business-owners?

Personal time, personal finances and personal advancements were all at risk when I created Raising Artists. But it was the best investment of my life! To other creative entrepreneurs I’d say don’t give up. Every day is a struggle; remember that if being an entrepreneur were easy, everyone would be doing it.

Also, be open to everything! We all have our practices, habits, sequences and schedules.  Throw that book out the window. Be flexible and embrace the unknown and unusual and find beauty in that. There are no rules to creativity, only inspiration.

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What do you think blocks children’s creative development?

A child deprived of experience is a child barred from creativity. Each experience is a seed of creation: galleries, books, magazines, interaction with others, foods, smells, sounds.  We learn from everything we see, hear, eat, touch; this is a physical world.

How can parents and caregivers encourage children to be more creative at home?

By talking, describing, sharing ideas, designing together, group interactions with extended family and friends, and undertaking silly projects, grand projects, small projects, large projects, funny projects, household item projects, pieces-of-the-environment projects, investigations of the natural world together. The potential to create is all around us.  Parents and caregivers need to recognize this before they can encourage children to embrace their potential.

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What do you enjoy about hosting Raising Artists in Artscape buildings?

Raising Artists in Artscape buildings… could it be any more ideal? Artscape buildings are environments that inherently foster creativity through their involvement in local communities. Combined with the boundless young creativity at Raising Artists, Artscape spaces come alive.  The fact that I can carve out a little niche in Artscape for my budding artists tells me there is a place in this world for everyone.

Learn more about Raising Artists at www.raisingartists.ca and follow them on InstagramTwitterFacebook.

Sewing the Quilt of Love

By Karen Whaley | Photography by Yasin Osman | Videography by Candice McCavitt

Portrait of Sakina by Yasin Osman

 

Regent Park: A Love Poem

In the lobby of the Paintbox Condos hangs a remarkable quilt titled, “Regent Park: A Love Poem”, a colourful streetscape where old apartment blocks stand next to shiny new towers, children splash in a wading pool, women tend to communal gardens and families picnic on expanses of bright green grass.

It is a handmade tribute to the neighbourhood’s past and a vision of its future seen through the eyes of members of the Regent Park Women and Families Quilting Group, a collective of Bangladeshi women who gather together to sew and socialize in their spare time. The Daniels Corporation commissioned the quilt, and a song inspired by the Quilting Group is included in The Journey: A Living History of Regent Park.

You drew a pattern with stories from our past. Sewing squares of fabric that make the memories last.

Lyrics from “Quilt of Love”

Mossammat Sakina Khanam

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When Mossammat Sakina Khanam moved to Regent Park with her family in 1997, she quickly found friends in the neighbourhood’s large Bangladeshi community. As an immigrant herself, Sakina recognized the challenges of being half a world away from the people who love, understand and accept you. She noticed the women in her community were struggling with their new life in Canada and, as a social worker, she knew that she wanted to help.

In the evenings after work, Sakina and a handful of like-minded women went door-to-door, speaking to their neighbours and learning about their problems and concerns. They formed a grassroots group, Regent Park Women and Families, and with an injection of funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation they began running programs to connect South Asian women and help them integrate. They offered ESL classes, a homework club, parenting workshops and a sewing circle.

Sakina’s Sewing Circle

Sakina Khanam

Sakina’s sewing circle started as a social activity, but its members soon developed entrepreneurial ambitions. “The women wanted a way to earn money,” Sakina explains. “But they are not skilled, they have language barriers, they come from conservative families.” Many of the Bangladeshi women Sakina was working with had never been employed outside the home; their responsibilities were raising children and taking care of the household while their husbands went out to work. The idea of a sewing business was appealing because they could practice their cultural traditions while earning a small amount of money in their spare time.

“When women spend their time in a fruitful, creative way, it gives them some happiness. And when they get money [for it], they are so transformed,” says Sakina. Thirty women participated in the initial sewing program and some went on to start their own business as seamstresses. Other women from Regent Park Women and Families now work as early childhood educators, food service workers and professionals.

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More than a decade later, Sakina’s sewing circle still gathers together to produce their beautiful quilts and handmade bags over tea and conversation. Regent Park’s redevelopment has given them new opportunities to sell their work and showcase their talent around the neighbourhood, but it has not come without hardships. The relocation of TCH residents to other units around the city has fractured the networks that Regent Park Women and Families worked so hard to develop; sometimes friends who move out of the neighbourhood don’t come back. Unable to afford commercial rents in the new buildings, the sewing group has not been able to secure a permanent workspace that accommodates their needs.

Dreaming of the Future

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After more than a decade as a grassroots organizer, Sakina dreams of a future where Regent Park’s many agencies and not-for-profits work in a coordinated way to deliver programming for women. “I have a vision of one women’s organization in Regent Park. For all cultures, with all programs. Everything under one umbrella in one big space,” she says. Her experience living in a multicultural community has shown her that people have more similarities than differences. All cultures have their handicraft traditions. Young women around the world are taught how to sew, weave and cook by the older generation. One of the biggest similarities she sees is the desire to be connected to the people and communities around us. To participate in building something—big or small—and to stitch together the pieces of our past into the future we’d like to see.

View highlights from our live interview with Sakina below.

 

 

Ada Slaight Youth Arts Mentorship Program 2015 Recap

The Ada Slaight Youth Arts Mentorship Program at Daniels Spectrum is a multi-arts program that engages emerging artists from the Regent Park area. The program is designed to give them access to arts and cultural experiences, educational workshops and connects them with an industry mentor to help them take their art practice to the next level. This year’s mentees included: Allison Ha,   Claudia Pena, Ida Zimmerman,  Lynn Nguyen, Max Zimmerman   Shandel Bailey, Shira Nakabitto, Stephanie Caldeira, Subrana Rahman, Tafriha Islam and  Yvie Ramos.

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A Regent Park Poet on the Pan Am Stage

Mustafa the Poet electrifies crowds as Pan Am poet laureate

Spoken-word poet Mustafa Ahmed has had a huge year. A Regent Park native and popular fixture at Daniels Spectrum, Mustafa the Poet has toured with We Day, hung out with Drake, and performed before an international crowd as poet laureate of the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.

The response to Mustafa’s August 15th performance, where he extinguished the Pan Am flame to bring an official close to the games, was electric . Tweets from the event called the performance “powerful,” “awesome,” and “brilliant,” and the Toronto Star reported that “it was Mustafa the Poet, who recited one of his spoken-word poems before the Pan Am flame was extinguished, who brought soul to the closing ceremonies.”

Mustafa has been deeply involved with Daniels Spectrum since its opening, from sitting on the youth council to performing in the building dozens of times as part of tours and special events. He says that the chance to perform regularly was “really incredible, and a great way for me to get comfortable as a performer.” A graduate of the Ada Slaight Youth Arts Mentorship Program, he worked with pianist Thompson Egbo-Egbo and other Regent Park Youth to create “Spectrum of Hope,” a music video that’s a “powerful expression of pride” for Regent Park.

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