Launched in 2007, Project Random was a two-year community arts initiative and a partnership between Toronto Community Housing (TCHC), West Hill Community Services and City of Toronto Cultural Services. The multidisciplinary arts project brought together local youth from the Kingston-Galloway/Orton Park (KGO) neighbourhood and professional artists in an exciting art-making and mentorship process. Local youth took part in skill-building activities covering a variety of artistic disciplines including: face painting, mask making, stilt dancing, mosaic, mural painting, photography, drumming and spoken word. Project Random was about building skills, apprenticeships and arts engagement.
On February 3rd, I spoke with Andrea Raymond, Cultural Outreach Officer, from Arts Services based at Cedar Ridge Creative Centre about the project.
How did Project Random respond to the community?
The project was a response to the fact that there was no art, and youth engaged in other community projects had expressed desire to try out art. As Project Random continued it became a response to the youth we were working with. Over the course of the project there were about 100 youth who took part, but it wouldn’t always be the same youth, with the exception of 8-10 who were with the project from its inception. We really did respond. If they said they wanted to learn photography, or story telling, or a different element of the arts, we tried to bring that to them. In terms of how the project responded to the neighbourhood, as the project built dynamism more art began to happen in the community.
What were the project’s biggest challenges?
From an administrative perspective it can be challenging when you have several organizations trying to work together. It wasn’t the actual people at the table, we had a lovely collective that collaborated well and shared similar ideology. But because we were all working within the framework of larger organizations we sometimes had to battle through that. For example, with finance, if that was channeled through one organization it might be difficult to get the nitty gritty details that we needed because grant money was just a tiny portion of their operating budget.
Also, challenges within the community itself. It was difficult in the 2nd year, there were 3 programs running simultaneously. Two of them were running within TCHC buildings, even though the programs were 10-12 weeks it was challenging for the artists to go into the community and build a relationship in that short amount of time with the youth, and get their trust, get them to feel free to experiment and create.
One last thing that can be challenging working in a lot of these communities is that people have a hard time leaving their physical building. So being in partnership with TCHC has been a huge. When you can actually go into people’s living space, into the community rooms, or into the lobby, you can engage people. But there can sometimes be a reticence if you stray too far from their homes.
What were the project’s biggest successes?
We had a closing celebration at Cedar Ridge, where kids presented the t-shirts they had silk-screened, and some of the photos they had taken. Looking at what kind of relationships had developed, and seeing how excited they were was a really nice moment. Other kids had worked with Tanika Riley, an artist from an organization called Por Amore, teaching them to write and record their own hip hop. To see 12-14 year olds rapping about their lives. Watching the fact that they had produced a CD, and gone into a studio and rapped over donated beats. That was so cool.
The group who was engaged in PR for the longest time took part in so many things. They made art, learned face painting, mask making, photography, mosaic, and got into story telling and writing for ‘zines, and drama. The community and the Amazing Place organized a forum called ‘Magic at the Intersections’ at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus, and our youth represented Project Random as a successful project happening in KGO, to Mayor David Miller. To see youth doing skits or vignettes showing how Project Random had affected them, and watching them talk to the Mayor and engage civically was a huge success.
Through Project Random, participants got more and more engaged in their neighbourhood. They did a mural project at the East Scarborough Storefront, and they really became leaders. One of them is now part of a neighbourhood youth council, and is writing for a magazine. Watching the success of those youth, seeing how the art project didn’t just teach them art, it enabled them to get involved in their neighbourhood and have a voice in their community.
How did the Community respond to Project Random?
In the first year the kids worked with Red Pepper Spectacle Arts to do a mosaic in one of the TCHC buildings. It involved the kids most directly, but they installed it in the building. As the project went on, the community of that building continued to get more involved. People would offer tools or things that might help. ideas.
In the community at large you saw people interacting with the kids and artists from Swizzlestick Theatre – in awe of the fact that there were stilt dancers, larger than life. From a community perspective, the people living in KGO, the social agencies, and organizers in the community continue to be supportive of what’s happening. The local Starbucks at Morningside Crossings has been exhibiting photos documenting Project Random that the participants took. The location has kind of given over its walls for art. The local Morningside Library has given some hanging space, and their first exhibit was of masks made during Project Random and photos documenting the project.
What’s next for arts in Kingston-Galloway/Orton Park?
Although Project Random has come to an end, Kingston-Galloway/Orton Park is a hub of artistic activity. This summer a collaborative of arts groups and academics are working on a bridge project on Lawrence Avenue East, near Orton Park, and I imagine that some youth from Project Random will become engaged. From an organizer’s perspective, everyone has been looking out for these kids and keeping in mind that we need to continue to provide opportunities, keep these kids engaged, and engage other kids who haven’t yet had an opportunity. For more info on what’s happening in KGO, visit www.ourkgocommunity.com
Toronto Cultural Services would like to give special mention to project partners: Janet Fitzsimmons of West Hill Community Services, Toronto Community Housing Corporation collaborators Sheila McGregor and Lorraine Gajadharsingh; and artists: Rob Matejka, Meghan Deere, Tanika Riley and Brescia Nember-Reid, Swizzlestick Theatre, Red Pepper Spectacle Arts, Njacko Backo, and Dwayne Morgan. Thanks to our funders: Social Investment Fund, Toronto Arts Council and Ontario Arts Council.
For more information on community arts activities in Scarborough, please contact Susan Kohler, Senior Arts Consultant at 416.396.5142 or the Scarborough Arts Council (www.scarborougharts.com) at 416.698.7322. To find out about the bridging project proposed for summer 2010, visit http://www.avivacommunityfund.org/ideas/acf1897. To learn about Jumblies Theatre’s artistic residency in southeast Scarborough, visit www.jumbliestheatre.org