Art can transform lives. It gives us the power to question, to confront, to explore and challenge how we think about the world.

Art can transform lives. It gives us the power to question, to confront, to explore and challenge how we think about the world.

Since I've returned to the 6ix aka Toronto this summer, I've been working behind the scenes to strengthen a number of principles that will define the long term goals of hard knock leadership.

At the moment youth based arts education has become a primary focus for me since I'm currently practicing as an international visual artist. So on this return I decided to invest more of my time in building bridges between my passion as an artist and my purpose as a community builder. 

Over the summer I was approached to support the building of the We Are Dixon project in the west end, around this idea of creating youth storytellers to capture underrepresented communities through photography. The vision of this project was to build on the momentum We Are Lawrence project that I stepped on board with as an apprentice and a co-curator last year.

Here short doc highlighting the work that was done. 

This is a documentary of We Are Lawrence Avenue (2014), a dynamic outdoor community driven photography exhibit on Lawrence Avenue East in Toronto, Canada. We Are Lawrence Avenue told the story of Lawrence Avenue in Scarborough's Wexford Heights neighbourhood, featuring portraits of people who live, work and play in the community.

Arts Education Curriculum & Content 

For me the value of arts education programming revolves around empowering others with the tools to become leaders for their community. 

Our specific focus through the We Are Dixon & We Are Lawrence projects in Toronto, was to help foster and create youth storytellers within the disadvantaged and under resourced margins of the city.

The direction for these projects is to use photography as the storytelling medium in places where mainstream media outlets control the view of community representation. These programs help showcase the stories not being covered. The work aims to speaks to the human side of these communities. 

I'm writing this article to share with you some of the video curriculum Hard Knock Leadership is using for arts education programming with the goal of creating tomorrow's artistic leaders.

The modules we've created for our programming pulls visual resources that showcase how storytelling is taken on through photography. A crucial part of the curriculum is the ability for youth to reflect on their own personal stories in connection to the visual resources provided. 

My hopes is that this article will provide you with some insights for how grassroots storytelling can possibly happen within your community.

 

The Power of storytelling

One of my strongest inspirations for visual arts in the recent years has been JR, a street artist and photographer who made me realize that the streets is the largest gallery in the world. As the winner of 2011 TED prize he was able to create the largest participatory art project in the world. 

Since my arts education programming has always aimed to highlight the the power of art as a tool for community building & storytelling, JR's TED talk video is an essential to how art has the ability to change the world. 

JR exhibits his photographs in the biggest art gallery on the planet. His work is presented freely in the streets of the world, catching the attention of people who are not museum visitors. His work mixes Art and Action; it talks about commitment, freedom, identity and limit.

The above video is a condensed video with english subtitles that I share during my workshops.  A link to the full length video on ted.com is provided below. The full length video also has the ability to provide subtitles in different languages, which became extremely helpful when working with international audiences. It helped me facilitate the pop up exhibit & workshop titled "Suenos de la Calle" for youth in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 

JR Ted Talk: Use art to turn the world inside out (Full Length) 

JR's 28mm project highlighted in the video, captured portraits of the people from Montfermeil in Paris to share the story of a community that the media had continued to misrepresent. The 28mm style of portraiture is something that has heavily influenced the lens of my own photography and artistic process and I often use the project as an example to how marginalized communities around the world often face the same struggle of being misunderstood.

To see a short video & learn more about the 28mm project, click the link below.

JR's Portraits of a generation: The 28mm project

The inside out projects instigated by JR is a prime example I use on how storytelling and art can be a powerful tool to change the way people view the world.

Reflection Question: If you could use art to change the world through the inside out project, what story would you tell?

 

Telling the story of our communities

My purpose as storyteller is to focus on the stories that are not being told. Whenever I sit at a table to build dialogue aimed at finding solutions for various issues that arise with different communities, the question I'm always asking myself who needs to be here at this table that is not sitting here right now.

For many neighborhoods that have been labelled marginalized, low income or prioritized a big issue that arises is the perception of what outsiders believe exist in the communities. Very often the media has a strong hold on telling the story of our communities with their angle on the negative side versus the stories that empower these communities instead. 

Here of an example from Somali photographer Muhamed Mumin,  who took on the role of becoming a cultural storyteller for his community through photography because no one else was doing it 

Mohamud Mumin creates striking portraits of fellow Somali immigrants, hoping to spark dialogue about the immigrant experience in Minnesota. 

 It is important to understand our stories before we search for the stories that are not being told. One of the biggest lessons that I carry to this day as an artist is that it is about being human first and artist second. Framing photography from a human perspective gives life to work I take on because it gives the power back to the people whose portraits were taken. Especially when you're walking into communities that have been misunderstood building a connection with the people before capturing the stories is what creates real humanistic value in our conversations

I take this example of framing photography through a human perspective by photographer Wayne Lawrence who captured the streets of Detroit by once again focusing on the untold narratives in humanity 

Wayne Lawrence: It's all about the people - Framing the human story of Detroit

Similar to projects like Humans of New York, documentary photography has always aimed to share the real stories of people around the world. When creating our community stories, it's essential that we look at the human side to connect with one another. 

Reflection Question: Share a human story about your community that is not being told to others?

 

Finding our voice as storytellers 

When I first started doing photography, I struggled because I could not relate with the photographers doing fine art, I need to find the ones that were sharing the stories of the culture and people similar to the people that I was surrounded with.

Because we all look at the world from different lenses it becomes important to understand our voice as a storyteller & how it resonates with the work of others. 

Finding local artists who shared the untold stories is what kept me in the game and inspired me to continue exploring the hidden narratives of communities that are not being shared with the world.

 

Growing up in Guelph, Ontario, Che struggled to figure out his purpose. At the age of 15, a family vacation opened up his world. Surrounded by the rich roots of the Caribbean, with a camera in hand, Che eagerly documented everything he saw, determined to share what was happening in the world with everyone back home. That deep sense of urgency and community spirit drove Che into an accomplished career as a photographer and beloved cultural community instigator. Watch more at www.insightproject.tv

My own journey as an artist would not be be this way if it was not for international artists like JR and Che Kothari who have helped shape my vision for creating with purpose. 

Being mentored by Che Kothari during the We Are Lawrence and supporting the Inside Out Project in Toronto that was curated by JR has helped me also strengthen my voice as a storyteller in both my life and the work I do.

One of the most valuable life learning tools that was passed onto me by Che Kothari was these reflective questions that was given to him by his mentor d'bi young pulling from her sorplusi methodology for artists. 

Reflection Questions: Who Am I? How Am I? What is My Purpose?

These questions is how I start all of my programming to build the idea of self knowledge. You can ask yourself these questions whenever you need to realign your voice as a storyteller, leader or creator. I use it often in my own life to find my voice and understand the voice of others. 

 

The Role of storytelling in Arts Education 

While the arts education programming HKL looks to build revolves around the need to provide more tools to communities that are under resourced and often misrepresented by mainstream media, our programming always changes according to the need of the community and more importantly the youth who take a lead in championing these ideas. 

For me without the voice of youth there is no actual programming, for they are the ones I hope would start playing a key role in creating change for their community through storytelling. 

When I walk into prioritized neighbourhoods in the west or the east and we are challenged by our geographical divisions between the hoods, I often share with the youth this idea. 

If you take the language and the people out of the different concrete jungles in the world, our struggles will still sound and feel the same. 

While storytelling becomes a strong pillar to engage communities in reflecting on the understandings of their own narratives, it is art that becomes our healing process for people to see the world in a more humanistic way.

This is why I say that art is power. 


This article breakdown some of the curriculum & content from Hard Knock Leadership's Arts Education Storytelling Programming. 
Interested in creating similar projects within your community 
Connect with Hard Knock Leadership on more ways to build through arts education 
contact hardknockleader@gmail.com for inquiries



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