“Right after my shift would end at 3pm, I’d get on my bike and go straight to SKETCH. I’d do three or four things: make a meal, volunteer, screen print a few shirts, and record a song. I would leave and think, ‘wow, this was a full day of art!’ At the end of the day I’d go to my friends and be like, ‘look what I did today!'”
I don’t like being called homeless.
I never felt like that word described me because it focuses on the fact that I’m poor. It doesn’t recognize that I’m an artist first.
You see, I’m a gardener. A musician. A cook. But it’s true, I have been homeless. Last year I was homeless.
The thing about SKETCH though is that they focus on “Working Arts”. I like that emphasis, because that’s what I do. I work and I go to school despite my living circumstances.
It was 2006 when I first heard about SKETCH. A musician friend of mine told me about this place where you could record music. When I walked into SKETCH for the first time and saw everything I could do I thought “wow! I haven’t done music in a long time. I haven’t done art in years!”
I started coming regularly to record music.
One day, Sue (SKETCH Program Coordinator) announced she was looking for people to work on the community-garden project. I looked around, no one raised their hand. I was like, “I garden!”
I started volunteering almost every day in the kitchen. After a while I was
hired in a leadership position to organize and prepare meals for the SKETCH community. I made sure the food was nutritious and met everyone’s needs: vegans, vegetarians, meat lovers.
Everything I made was turning out to be tasty and good. The day I made my mother’s tuna casserole, I really knew I had a talent for cooking.
Now, I think about how thankful I am that I found SKETCH and have had the opportunity to be part of starting two different community gardens in the city. Those gardens harvest herbs and vegetables that feed a community of people who don’t really have access to healthy foods.
Being involved at SKETCH has had a huge positive impact on my life. It’s always given me a purpose to get up and get out there, even when it wasn’t easy.
When the recession came in 2009 and jobs were really hard to find, there was no funding to hire people for the garden at SKETCH. That year I was really struggling. I never thought I’d go a whole year without a job, but I did. But I kept volunteering anyway.
Through the network and connections I had built at SKETCH, I was later able to get a job at a neighbourhood centre in their kitchen. Right after my shift would end at 3pm I’d get on my bike and go straight to SKETCH. I’d do 3 or 4 things: make a meal, volunteer, screen print a few shirts, and record a song. I would leave and think, “wow, this was a full day of art!” At the end of the day I’d go to my friends and be like, “look what I did today!”
SKETCH helps a lot of people be creative. It gives people the tools, the time, and the space to explore their ideas. And they do it with such enthusiasm! I’ve always felt like people at SKETCH really believe in me and because of that I’ve had the motivation to take chances and develop as an artist and as a person.
Donate today to support youth like Ezekiel who are passionate about developing their culinary-arts skills.
“With support from the SKETCH family, I was able to discover my skills on my terms. I can’t even think about what my life would be without SKETCH being there.”
I’ll never forget the first time I walked into SKETCH.
It was back in 2004, when I was living in a young women’s shelter.
At the time I was doing all the women’s hair there, and a staff asked me, “What do you want to do with yourself?”
I said, “I have no idea.”
They suggested I visit SKETCH to see if I could learn how to do hair there. I got to SKETCH and I didn’t see any hair things or brushes. But I did see a piano, and I gravitated to it because I used to play when I was younger.
One day I saw a Community Artist (a youth hired to lead and organize programs at SKETCH) who was Filipino, and I was like “Oh, okay, there are people like me here.”
So I kept coming back. I eventually joined a photography program where we got to develop our own film, and from that point I was hooked on SKETCH.
At SKETCH, you decide what you’re going to be. There were days when I was really, really depressed and I wanted to stay in bed. But I still came to SKETCH; I had to keep busy.
When you live at a shelter you get a daily allowance of 4$ and a TTC token. You have to leave by8:30AM and you can’t return until 4:00PM. SKETCH was a place for me to go when there was nowhere else to go.
As a Filipino woman, I didn’t have the face of a homeless person. Filipinos don’t think they could ever become homeless because we have such large, extended families. It’s hard to allow yourself to be identified as homeless—there’s a certain shame you bring upon yourself. You’re supposed to be resourceful and “have it together”.
But there are so many reasons why young people become homeless. Personally, I’d been in a very abusive relationship and had to leave home.
The SKETCH staff was really welcoming and warm. One of the Community Artists working there encouraged me to apply for the position. I hesitated but put in an application anyway. I ended up getting the job! That was really exciting because I’d just found stable housing.
I was soon able to start taking photography classes at Ryerson University one day a week—while supporting by myself at SKETCH. For my class project, I set up a photo booth at SKETCH and took portraits of other SKETCH artists.
SKETCH gave me opportunities to connect to new ambitions. Before each shift would start, I would organize art pieces on the SKETCH walls. That’s where my interest in curation started.
On my last day as a CA, I spotted Toronto photographer Steve Carty on the street. I wanted to ask him if I could assist for him but, like I said, I was pretty shy. Julian, a SKETCH Program Coordinator said, “You have nothing to lose, it’s your last day!” So, I went up to Steve Carty and told him I wanted to learn with him. And he took me on.
From that came an amazing opportunity. In the summer of 2008 I travelled to the Dominican Republic with SKETCH staff to do a photography workshop with children in the barrios of Santo Domingo. The children had never used cameras before and by the end of the week we were exhibiting their work.
After that trip I got grant funding and was able to purchase my own laptop. And from the photos that I shot in the Dominican, I had my first solo photography show during the 2009 CONTACT Photography Festival. I was even in the magazine! It was such a sense of accomplishment.
I was able to achieve all this with SKETCH’s support.
Since that show, I joined the 2009 Artreach Grant Review Committee, the 2011 Laidlaw Foundation Grant Review Committee, and this year’s Community Arts Jury at the Toronto Arts Council.
Today, I’m employed as the curator at Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park. Little did I know, years ago, when I was hanging art at SKETCH studio that I would end up being employed in one of the city’s leading cultural centres.
The thing I love about SKETCH is they take risks and support passion. With support from the SKETCH family, I was able to discover my skills on my terms.
I can’t even think about what my life would be without SKETCH being there. I can’t even do the “what if’s”. I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t have the support and encouragement from SKETCH.
Donate today so young people like Elle can explore their skills and develop creative careers in the arts.
“I am proud now to be in better enough of a position to give back to a community that has given so much to me. SKETCH isn’t just an organization, it really is a community and it has grown beautifully.”
SKETCH, of all the organizations I know, has by far had the biggest impact on my life. My name is James Muggah, but like many youth and artists alike, I have a street name. For me it is a stage name I have adopted for daily use, Frosty Fortwenney (pronounced 420).
I moved to Toronto back in March 2002, hoping to get off the streets of Halifax and pursue a possible career in music. Upon my arrival I stayed in Covenant House and several other shelters as well as on the street itself. I lost the first apartment I had after a year and a half of living there. My music was showing potential, but my drug use was beginning to get out of control. Back I went into the shelters, and up went my drug use. I was beginning to lose hope.
Shortly before I moved in to my next apartment, a friend and musician from a local shelter told me about a SKETCH Feast and invited me to come. I obliged, and was immediately put on a stage they had set up, complete with mics, guitars, amps and an electronic drum kit. I must have spent half the night playing music before finally settling down to have a bite to eat and start meeting people. Among the staff was Julian Diego, who formerly had been my case manager at the Y House shelter.
Even after I had moved out of the shelters, I continued heavily using hard drugs. I had started using SKETCH’s recording studio and even began volunteering to coordinate the live jams that would happen in open studio. I honestly believe it was the hope and humanity that SKETCH offered me that was helping to keep me alive while I was so close to giving up. My body began to weaken but still I came to SKETCH almost every week. One week I brought a young woman named Sunny to observe a recording session. We really liked each other, so I asked her out right there in the studio. With a lot of care, patience and a couple adorable kittens, she eventually got me clean, sober and off the drugs.
Through all this I came to SKETCH as much as I could, even after me and Sunny had our first child, a boy named Aries. It was hard to come as often as I wanted but I showed up whenever I could to record, help out and enjoy being a prominent part of the SKETCH Community. I had a songwriter’s showcase for a while where I would book a small venue, fill the slots with SKETCH musicians and perform. Now that I’m a Community Artist (SKETCH’s leadership program), I’m seriously considering doing this again.
Thanks to the recording studio at SKETCH, I’ve had some of my music released on separate occasions. A few years back, my song “2:30 a.m.” was released on Quickstar Productions’ “Rock 4 Life” Compilation. Recently, a whole bunch of my music was featured in the indie films “Consequences” and “Terminally Living”, the latter in which I also played a minor character.
I am sure there will be future successes to come, both as an intern with SKETCH and also as a performer. Any measure of success can be credited to SKETCH just as much as myself and Sunny. I am proud to say Sunny is expecting our second child later this year, a baby girl to be named Serena. Had it not been for SKETCH, I may not have lived long enough to have had the first one or to share the many bonds and memories I’ve made at SKETCH over the years. I am proud now to be in better enough of a position to give back to a community that has given so much to me. SKETCH isn’t just an organization, it really is a community and it has grown beautifully. I take pride in my work with SKETCH, and would like to express my undying thanks to all who helped me get where I am today. I couldn’t have done it without you.
Donate today so young artists like Frosty can create music in a safe space and feel a sense of hope for the future.