What, if anything, does Canada 150+ mean to young people?
In times of political uncertainty and social tension, the arts deliver a strong voice for the people, voices of both dissent and unity. In our current climate, the themes of Canada’s 150th – belonging, inclusion, connection and reconciliation – are more important than ever.
The arts have a unique place in building empathy, the first step in creating a society where everyone belongs. So much humanity can be expressed through a song, a painting, a dance. For us philanthropists, empathy is necessary for effective relationship building with marginalized communities. As we bring resilience to the forefront of our strategy here at Toronto Foundation, the arts will play an important role in communicating lived experience and centring the narrative around ‘belonging’.
This month we’re featuring Julie Frost, the Executive Director of VIBE Arts for Children and Youth (VIBE), a recipient of our Community Fund for Canada’s 150+ grant. VIBE uses the arts to support young people to create space for themselves, to represent their voices across multiple mediums of expression. These children and youth are not only the ‘leaders of tomorrow’, they are a source of pragmatic idealism that we can all learn from today.
Please describe yourself and your work.
I’ve been in arts education for 28 years with much of my work focused on community-engaged arts. I am also a visual artist by trade. My work with VIBE Arts involves working collaboratively to run tailor-made arts education programs for young people living in under-served communities across Toronto. Grassroots community-led art making is at the heart of VIBE Arts. It builds resiliency, spawns innovation and creates vibrancy in people and the neighbourhoods they live in.
What is your Community Fund for Canada’s 150+ project?
It’s called ‘150+ Reasons We Love Canada’. With organizations from coast to coast to coast, 500 children and youth will create 60 original murals of “150+ Reasons We Love Canada”. The plus sign refers to Canadians having more than ‘150 reasons’ why they love Canada, and, most importantly, it acknowledges that Indigenous people are the original inhabitants of this land. The murals will be displayed in subway stations in Toronto, in airports across the country, shopping malls, and in our skylines on large digital billboards. This is VIBE’s first national project.
Why does VIBE care about Canada 150+?
We care about 150 because there are a lot of voices across Canada that are rarely given priority or an opportunity to be heard. At VIBE Arts we believe we’re responsible for ensuring those voices are respectfully heard – through art. Young people represent a whole spectrum of ideas, memories, opinions and perspectives that are a part of Canada’s histories and future. Our 150+ project gives young people opportunities to situate themselves in larger national and global contexts.
One of the 150+ themes is belonging, what role does the arts play here?
That’s where it comes back to community engaged arts, diverse groups coming together to create for a common good. In this environment, you get a sense of being a part of something bigger. When you’re creating art, you’re drawing from your own ideas, imagination, and experiences, and sharing them with others to create something larger and communal. The experience and artwork wouldn’t have been the same without your input. This creates feelings of belonging and purpose. The young people leading this project are defining their own narrative of our country.
What response are you hoping to get from Torontonians?
I want Torontonians (and all Canadians) to be inspired by the next generation of culture makers. I hope everyone recognizes the artistic agency and innovation that children and youth embody. It’s authentic and powerful. They express openness in their spirit and a remarkable intelligence and creativity that should be widely celebrated. Torontonians should be moved by the leadership of our 150+ young muralists and the chosen imagery that represents what Canada means to them. I want us to feel pride for the next generation.