CANVAS co-founders Ayla and Miriam, through their own individual work, recognized there was a gap in the education system that allowed for youth to talk about gender, queer issues, and sexual violence. With both being passionate about using the arts as a medium to address these areas, CANVAS was born. Since 2014, CANVAS has received two ArtReach grants, built an incredible roster, and have run programming on gender identity, sexual orientation, consent, positive relationship building, self-esteem, and violence prevention from an authentically anti-oppressive framework.
In 2017, ArtReach funded CANVAS’ Speak On It program, a 12-week spoken word poetry and photography program at The 519 Church Community Centre for LGBTQ2S+ youth, allies, and young people with gender and sexual diversity in their families. Through this program, youth are able to explore the topics closest to their hearts and develop empowering personal narratives through the arts. The project is for youth and led by youth, and provides young people with vital mentorship and support from spectrum-identified artists and community members.
In speaking with Londzo, one of the primary facilitators of this year’s program, it’s no surprise to hear that Speak On It continues to grow and flourish, particularly with the strengthened partnership between CANVAS and the 519. As Londzo notes, “this partnership was a great opportunity for queer youth to collaborate, have a safe space to talk about their experiences, and look at gender and sexuality. I think it would be a really powerful thing to see it become more regularly ingrained in the 519’s programming.”
Both youth and community alike have reacted positively to the program. Londzo mentions that, “people have been very drawn to this space and have shown excitement for the program.” Speak On It has not only created a viable space for the youth in the community, but has also created an opportunity for the parents of these youth to engage in more open and positive dialogue with their children. “A few different parents have shown more interest in contributing to the program, as they now see how their children could benefit from it,” says Londzo.
With its current success, program expansion is the natural next step for the Speak On It program. CANVAS’ 2017 grant from ArtReach supported further development of the program, bringing in well-paid guest artists, and being able to work more collaboratively with youth to design the program around what they wanted to see happen. Londzo says that, more than just providing funding, “what ArtReach made possible was helping to create a safe space for youth to come together in a room where they weren’t going to experience homophobia or transphobia like they do in their schools and/or communities. Here, the youth have something to look forward to and a place where they belong. It is amazing to see how two hours in a space like this can make youth feel better. All of these kids come together and create a support system through creating art.” This is the ultimate impact that programs like CANVAS can have for young people in our community.
In thinking about the future of the Speak On It program, Londzo says that she would like to see it happen more often- every week if possible! To find out more about CANVAS, Speak On It, and the other amazing programs they run, check out https://www.canvasprograms.ca/programs.