Everything starts with a SKETCH.
A sketch is a work in progress; it has rough edges, simplistic lines. It is a gesture of intent. It’s meant to inspire, communicate, share visions, impressions or perspectives. It’s meant as an idea generator, a quick image to illustrate what could be possible.
Perfomances from SKETCH20, here and below; above Oddane Taylor
It is understood that a sketch will be recreated again and again each time with more definition, more clarity, more questions, more curiosities. Sometimes sketches are created in great haste, out of frustration, or an immediate need to communicate what’s been held captive in the imagination for a long time.
Often sketches are thrown out completely and new ones get created, informed by the ones that were made before. But, most certainly, a “SKETCH” creates appetite for more creativity, and provokes some kind of emotional connection.
20 years ago, I got to etch SKETCH on a napkin with a friend–and the Working Group (a group of formerly houseless young people)–and I conspired about more arts and more artists more of the time with more youth.
Breakdancing courtesy of Unity Charity
What started as a pilot arts project 20 years ago on Queen Street West in Toronto has turned into a full-on, youth-driven and youth-determined community development enterprise. A space where young people from all over Canada gather to make things, make friends and make change. Not just within themselves. Indeed, their discoveries and sweet skills developed and provoked new thinking, perspectives, and signals to the broader public–the ways we could build programs, communities and important infrastructure for young people to actually thrive.
Over our 20 years, we’ve engaged over 10,000 young people (ages 15-30), over 4000 artists and activists, and hundreds of collaborators and partners to design, conduct and evaluate the work we do. Hundreds of donors and funding partners supported the work, and we’ve built 17,000 total square feet of arts engagement space in Toronto for young people navigating poverty, living homeless or otherwise on the margins.
Beatboxing performance by SKETCH Artists
Our journey has taken us through alleyways, down train tracks, into drop-in centres, theatres, shelters, community housing, gardens, health centres, schools, storefronts, warehouses, and finally into our solid new digs of 9,000 square feet of cross-discipline studio and arts administrative space in Toronto’s west end.
The result of this collaborative and cooperative space-making–where art creation of every sort is the basis for interaction–is that young people, artists and community activists have been engineering a learning arts-engagement practice that supports the creativity and ingenuity of young people creating on the margins of society to become more central to building and leading more inclusive and invigorated culture and community.
Vendor Crafty Chas Crochet vending their crochet dolls at SKETCH20
Youth artists themselves have used art-making tools to express rich experience and build resilience, and find out more about who they are and then operate out of that newfound self-awareness. They have a strong desire to overcome the isolation and oppression, ageism and other isms, that are so prevalent in our society. They have alternative perspectives and astute observations that enable them to speak into social problems and they can actually assist overall community building. They want their imaginations invigorated and their ideas and dreams realized. They want to inform decisions that are made about them. They have a longing for healthy and respectful relationships based on mutual care and generosity.
Hugs abound at #SKETCH20
We celebrate their leadership, their visions, and their creativity. They have made SKETCH more than we ever imagined it could be.
Over 20 years it’s been the same. This pulsating, creative tenacity that swells up and causes us to pay attention. The next 20 years reveal a new kind of leadership, new community, new installations and new authorship of Arts for Social Change.
-By Phyllis Novak, Artistic Director
Photo credits: Ian Lawrence and Bayley Nargang