The 2015 recipient of the Guelph Arts Council Youth Opportunities Award, Shera Mekhail, is working to create an accessible and inclusive space that enables diverse youth to express and connect with the arts and each other. Shera’s pilot project, the Creation Station, will combat the waste and expense of art materials. The Creation Station will provide a space for repurposing discarded materials by offering them to both the youth and arts program facilitators of Guelph. Shera hopes the space will act as a hub for sharing and creating, with the goal of making art accessible for everyone.
Shera is a local visual artist with a background in teaching and leading children and youth groups. A graduate of the University of Guelph for studio art and art history, she is also a certified teacher with a specialization in inner-city schools. Shera has an intense drive to foster equality, inclusivity, diversity, and to create access to art and artful experiences.
The idea for Creation Station was born from her time studying in Toronto as a teacher candidate, where she had access to a similar program. The Toronto-based program was a space for the donation and repurposing of traditional and non-traditional art materials for teachers and other program facilitators.
Through access to those resources Shera led a lunchtime knitting program for children. Shera noted the incredible experience created by the children’s ‘knitting circle’ and the shared struggle with the material and storytelling that took place. For many, the lunchtime program was a powerful lesson that art does not equate to perfection, but instead is a process and experience, and can lead to incredible connections with others. The end result of the program was a knitted pathway through the classroom made from the children’s individual pieces sewn together. Shera described the colourful pathway running underneath desks and chairs, transforming the crowded, sterile classroom as “beautifully imperfect.”
After her studies in Toronto, Shera returned to Guelph and tried to find similar resources, describing the search for, “A place where youth and program facilitators could get what they need and give what they don’t.” When she came back empty handed, she realized the unique community-centred nature of Guelph presented an opportunity to create a place of meeting and collaboration.
To make her idea a reality, Shera partnered with the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition (GNSC), and Jerushia Allin, Program Supervisor for the Coalition. The GNSC is a network of neighbourhood groups, sponsoring agencies, and program partners that form a strong neighbourhood group coalition in Guelph. Jerushia and the GNSC have supported Shera in developing the project, securing a location for the Creation Station, and will play an important facilitating role moving forward.
With the space for the Creation Station secured, the project is nearing its launch and is already gaining support from the community. Shera noted a huge amount of support and materials from the Studio Arts program and the University of Guelph. Shera also notes that the Two Rivers Neighbourhood has been an integral part of the project, as a location close to the downtown where many creatives of all types live. She is hopeful that all of the support is a sign of good things to come, and that Creation Station will act as a hub to connect the university, high schools, and communities of Guelph. The support is also indicative of the makers community developing in Guelph; with Creation Station joining maker spaces like Necessary Arts Company, DIYode Makers Club, the Guelph Tool Library, and many others.
Shera is excited to be creating the opportunities and resources she would have loved to have had access to while growing up in Guelph. She explained that the city is, “Super connected and community friendly… the perfect mix of arts, environmentalism, and idea sharing,” and the perfect home for Creation Station. Shera explained that the Youth Opportunities Award, “Made this project a reality. It gave us the ability to start…The people here and the GAC are really accessible and open to the community and it makes things so much less intimidating.”
Keep an eye out for the launch of Creation Station and Shera’s future projects to make art accessible and more prevalent everywhere, for youth and for adults.
Local artists, not-for-profit groups, and youth are eligible to apply for programs that initiate, enhance or expand opportunities for children and youth under age 25 to experience or become engaged in the arts in Guelph or Wellington County. Local youth are particularly encouraged to apply.
Guelph Arts Council’s Youth Fund was established through the financial success of Youth in Performance presentations that GAC sponsored between 1980 and 1990. Additions to the fund were made over the years, and in 2005 Guelph Arts Council turned over the capital of the fund to The Guelph Community Foundation to create the GAC Youth Opportunities Fund. Since 2009, with revenue generated by the fund, GAC has supported arts opportunities for youth.
The amount of the award(s) varies annually. For 2016, $400 will be awarded. Decisions will be made by the GAC Youth Awards Panel and awards announced by the end of the year.
For more information about the Youth Opportunities Award and Guelph Arts Council, please visit guelpharts.ca, phone 519-836-3280, email [email protected], or drop by 147 Wyndham Street North – Suite 404, Guelph.
Since 1975, Guelph Arts Council has been dedicated to supporting, stimulating and promoting arts and culture in Guelph. Guelph Arts Council is funded in part by The Guelph Community Foundation and City of Guelph. We also acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.