Facilitating an art project is not your typical idea of Master’s thesis.
But for Amelia Merhar, it was the perfect way of taking her art and community activism to the next level. “I was trying to find a way to combine my activism and my art practice,” she says.
Amelia is an artist and the facilitator of Moving Home, a collaborative arts research project in which former youth in care take on the role of co-researchers in exploring, through the arts, the effects of placements. SKETCH and the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth are the project partners.
Moving Home co-researcher Bethany performing a movement piece at
SKETCH’s Rad Grad in June
As a student in Human Geography at York University, Amelia was interested in the idea that the child welfare system might be producing transient individuals. She based the premise of her thesis on research and her own experience as a former youth in care. “Human geography studies how people make space, make place, how they travel and the things we do to make space and place while we travel,” Amelia explains, “It got me wondering, what kind of people is the child welfare system inadvertently creating?”
Musician Oddane serenading some ladies at Rad Grad
The first phase of the project ran in the SKETCH studios during the Spring session, and attracted ten former youth in care. They got to express themes through painting, silkscreening, movement, music and more. “Art makes it so much easier for the participants to express themselves,” Amelia says, “They can be as personal or subjective as they want, or as political as they want. People can enter it at their own level.” She reiterates that Moving Home isn’t about the current statistics on former youth in care, rather, “It’s about asking former youth in care ‘what do you want to say?’”
Jewelry and T-Shirt by Singing Thunder
The art created in Moving Home is the data that Amelia will be analyzing for her thesis which she will spend the rest of the year working on. The full report should be released next Spring. The last phase of the project ends in Whitehorse, Yukon, in which two groups from Toronto and Whitehorse will create a zine together.
Spoken word piece performed by Zula
Backed by her own experience, art practice and youth-in-care secondary research, Amelia stresses the importance for social workers and those working with youth in care to cultivate communities of belonging. “It’s important to create a space for former youth to process their experiences,” she says, “because they have been so busy surviving and thriving and moving forward with their lives, that this little moment that was created [through Moving Home] allows them to move forward even more.”
-By Jonsaba Jabbi, Communications
Photo credits: Sonya Reynolds