By Heather Wilson – October 2021 – 

Art can create new futures. It nurtures creativity and imagination and teaches us to use them as tools to explore our world and ourselves. Through art, seemingly impossible ideas can be made real. This power is made even more meaningful when placed in the hands of youth. Art can drive positive community change. When youth are given the tools and confidence to (re)imagine and (re)shape our future, the possibilities are limitless. This is the belief that drives our work at Art City. 

For over 20 years, Art City has served the St. James Town community by providing free arts programming for children and youth out of our storefront studio on Sherbourne Street. We started by offering small drop-in programs to children interested in art, and have grown to offer a full suite of after-school and camp programs. While the structure of our programs has changed over time, the goals remain the same: we work with youth to develop arts skills and harness these skills to nurture a sense of self, self-worth, confidence and community leadership. Our youth have provided inspiration throughout our community in public murals, community arts exhibits in local museums, temporary displays and live performances. 

The last year and a half has reinforced the importance of mentoring our young artists and supporting them as community leaders. We have had to do this virtually throughout the pandemic. “When can we come back to Art City?” and “Remember when…” are common refrains among our students. Yet, while we desperately miss connecting in-person, we are thankful that we found new ways to gather together to practice art. Our youth and their parents talk about the sense of comfort and stability art has provided during this difficult time. Lockdowns, inconsistent school operations, and stay-at-home mandates have meant that youth, in particular, have had to completely restructure their lives to meet social and developmental needs. 

Over the past year and a half, we have been humbled as our young artists have demonstrated their strength and resilience. As we came together virtually with friends and artists from around the community, we found an outlet to share our frustrations, our hope, and our creativity. Artwork not only became a touchpoint for safe social interaction with friends and mentors but also a chance for release of tension, for self-expression, and for building life-skills like imagination, creative problem-solving and communication. Many of these skills have been vital to making it through this pandemic. 

We have learned a lot from our youth this past year. Perhaps nothing more important than this simple truth: we need each other. We are very much looking forward to coming together again in our community and continuing to share our art and our ideas as we create a future beyond the pandemic. 

Find out more about Art City in St. James Town by visiting our website: www.artcitytoronto.ca or on instagram @artcitytoronto.