Take Me With You: Street Art Mentorship

Whippersnapper Gallery has partnered with ArtStarts this summer to facilitate a youth street art mentorship project. Using recycled and found objects as their materials, youth are working alongside professional artists to create artwork that challenges traditional notions of both trash and art.

A jungle gym in the Atkinson Housing Co-op made out of found objects by the Youth Street Art Mentorship team.

A jungle gym in the Atkinson Housing Co-op made out of found objects by the Youth Street Art Mentorship team.

The sensory pleasures that art can incite are boundless in extent, and inimitable in effect. But what I find most fascinating about art, and particularly about community art, is the potential it holds to spark dialogue and engagement. By communicating familiar ideas in imaginative, unconventional ways, artists continually provoke audiences to challenge their own assumptions and opinions. Innovative modes of representation force viewers to broaden their perspective, and in doing so, art can serve as a powerful instigator of social change.

Whippersnapper Gallery’s Take Me With You is an inspiring example of how art can rouse healthy debate, and encourage community members to question mainstream ideology. The program will run until the end of August, and involves a number of different projects, collaborations and events. Components range from music shows to panel discussions and installations, but all aspects share the mandate to “re-imagine the use, importance, and social significance of objects and materials cast away by others.”

Recycled materials were re-purposed to create a musical instrument for local kids in the Atkinson Housing Co-op.

Recycled materials were re-purposed to create a musical instrument for local kids in the Atkinson Housing Co-op.

At the centre of Whippersnapper’s packed agenda is a 5-week Youth Street Art Mentorship project, facilitated in partnership with ArtStarts. Whippersnapper’s artistic director Joshua Barndt has worked with ArtStarts for nearly a decade, assisting them in their community arts projects. This spring, Barndt approached ArtStarts with a proposal to hire youth from Alexandra Park in a pilot youth mentorship project. After receiving the support of ArtStarts and the City of Toronto’s Graffiti Transformation Project, Whippersnapper began recruiting local participants.

Poster plants installed by the Youth Street Art Mentorship team at Spadina and Dundas.

Poster plants installed by the Youth Street Art Mentorshop team at Spadina and Dundas.

For each of the first three weeks, a different visiting artist or art collective led the youth in a specific installation or project. The first week saw Sean Martindale teach participants how to create his trademark poster planters, by transforming illegal posters into beds for potted plants. The next week was led by Sasha Foster and Felix Kalmenson, who helped the youth assemble neighbourhood shrines from local debris. Although some of the shrines have since been dismantled, the group has found strategies to promote synergy between the community and their work.

A neighbourhood shrine created by the Youth Street Art Mentorship team in Alexandra Park.

A neighbourhood shrine created by the Youth Street Art Mentorship team in Alexandra Park.

“Working with trash material, sometimes people can get a negative vibe,” Barndt explained. “But whenever we include some sort of living plant in our work, people are more likely to get a positive impression. They assume that since it’s being taken care of, the shrine is intentional and a positive thing. We also want the neighbourhood to be included in the project, so we’ve posted signs to encourage passers-by to contribute, and left watering buckets for the plants so that the community can participate.”

A slide created with found and recycled materials by the Youth Street Art Mentorship project.

A slide created with found and recycled materials by the Youth Street Art Mentorship project.

The third week of the project involved public sculpture-making with Urban Trash Art, a collective from Sao Paulo that works exclusively in trash materials. Together, the group refurbished an underused neighbourhood structure into a colourful and whimsical playground for kids in the Atkinson Housing Co-op.

A playful ladder created by the Youth Street Art Mentorship Project.

A playful ladder created by the Youth Street Art Mentorship Project.

For the final two weeks, the youth will work on a permanent and self-initiated installation at the Scadding Court Community Centre. Applying the tools and techniques they’ve learned from their artist mentors, the group will incorporate found materials like cans and tires into their final project. Using such untraditional materials to create something beautiful has solicited a range of responses, from skepticism and confusion to laudatory acclaim. But in our current climate of reckless over-consumption and irresponsible waste disposal, this is the type of inventive project that can stimulate exciting social change.

Take Me With You will run until the end of August. To find out more, please visit http://www.whippersnapper.ca/page5/page13/page13.html.

Amy Goudge is the Summer 2011 Membership Intern at the Neighbourhood Arts Network.

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