Toronto

'Hotbed of talent' brewing in west-end Toronto basement turned art hub

A brand new community arts program called Rustic Mosaic, run by the non-profit UrbanArts, is giving young people in seven high-needs neighbourhoods the opportunity to discover a passion for art.

'Artists are people and that’s what we want to do. We want to grow people.'

Rustic Mosaic, seen here, is the most recent addition to UrbanArts, an initiative that works to give young people in seven high-needs neighbourhoods the opportunity to discover a passion for art. (Tina Mckenzie/CBC)

A world of possibilities opens up for Dylan Kitchener as he pulls a kaleidoscopic band of paint across a canvas in a basement in Toronto's Weston neighbourhood.

Visual art has become a window for the 17-year-old high school student, who's a participant in the brand new community arts program called Rustic Mosaic, run by the non-profit UrbanArts.

It's an initiative that works to give young people in seven high-needs neighbourhoods across central and west Toronto the opportunity to discover a passion for art that may never have known they had, and discover themselves in the process. Rustic Mosaic is its most recent addition.

Kitchener didn't join for the painting and the drawing — his first love was photography. But it wasn't long before he was hooked, and now finds himself dabbling in the creative art of screen printing, an ink-transferring technique that involves dragging paint across a mesh screen in a stencil-like manner.

Dylan Kitchener, 17, who was introduced to Rustic Mosaic through his high school art teacher, is pictured here with a screen-printed design of his favourite basketball player, Allen Iverson. (CBC)

"This is a new medium I discovered and I realized how much I love it in this short amount of time. I'm just imagining the rest of my life, I feel like it's just going to grow and grow like my love for screen printing," Kitchener told CBC News, his eyes fixed on his canvas.

Sense of discovery

The Weston Collegiate Institute student is just one of a crop of young people who program manager Shah Mohamed works with. Many who join the program, he says, live in community housing just as Mohamed did before them.

"When I grew up in Toronto community housing, I realized there weren't a lot of resources accessible to us," Mohammed recalled.

Shah Mohamed, now program manager with UrbanArts, says he first noticed the need for arts programming growing up in Toronto community housing. (CBC)

Even today, he says, "there's a very high need for this type of programming to allow potential artists or individuals who aren't necessarily jibing with the school system to kind of come out, explore these mediums and hang out and really learn and grow socially."

The sense of discovery that Kitchener has found through expanding his medium isn't an exception. Sixteen-year-old Jerlie Thorpe's horizons grew too as she ventured into the visual arts.

'It's all you'

"It's teaching me that I can do anything," she said. "With the screen printing you can basically print anything.... With visual art; it's all you; it's whatever you want it to be."

Without the program, Jerlie Thorpe, 16, says she would be at home, watching TV or on the computer. "I guess it changed my perspective," she said. (CBC)

Without the program, she and many others say they would be at home, watching TV or on the computer.

"It got me out of the house, for sure. I guess it changed my perspective," Thorpe said.

Being able to quench his thirst for the arts outside of school has allowed 17-year-old Emory Collegiate student Damar Miller to take up classes like math and business, which he says is helping to launch his new entertainment business. Beyond that, he's learning the practical skills he heeds to put the ideas in his head on paper.

"I like making things," Miller said.

Emory Collegiate student Damar Miller, 17, says the program is helping him learn the practical skills put the ideas in his head on paper. (CBC)

'Stay experimental and keep playing'

Infusing young people with that spirit, of bringing ideas to life, is what motivates Jeff Garcia, known affectionately at Rustic Mosaic as "Mango."

The professional artist began his craft inside his mother's basement and has since gone on to teach visual art workshops around the city, including with UrbanArts.

"There's this hotbed of talent here that's brewing," he said of Rustic Mosaic's participants, adding what's often needed is simply a venue for that creativity to come to life.

Professional artist Jeff Garcia began his craft inside his mother's basement and has since gone on to teach visual art workshops around the city, including with UrbanArts. (CBC)

"Creating is cheap and it's so valuable at the same time," Garcia says. "It doesn't have to be expensive but making stuff is really important, to just stay experimental and keep playing."

But it isn't all experiments and play.

Garcia says the power of learning artistic techniques like screen printing lies in having to repeat them over and over to perfect them.

Discipline 'in a fun way'

"It teaches you repetition, it teaches you discipline but in a really fun way," he said. "That 10,000-hour rule, like doing something until you're an expert at it"

Some of those who come through the program are so talented, he and Mohamed say, that they could very well have a shot at attending the OCAD University in the future.

But virtually all will have done something even more significant, Mohamed said: "Explored their own potentials and learned to become self-confident and grow in a whole bunch of other ways that make them a whole person."

"Artists are people and that's what we want to do. We want to grow people."

With files from Marivel Taruc