The words “High on Art” dominate this happy mayhem, and so they should.
The final steps to the third floor of 113 Broadway in Orangeville feel like a portal to a world you might not expect in small town Ontario. A riot of colour and imagery leaps off near-20-foot walls. Straight ahead, a massive graffiti banner stretches above tall narrow street-facing windows. The words “High on Art” dominate this happy mayhem, and so they should. This is the newly minted home of Club Art – an expansive space designed to foster creativity, resilience and a sense of community in young people through artistic expression of any kind.
With the long-term vision of being a permanent arts drop-in centre created by and for local youth, Club Art so far seems on track to profoundly change lives – as it is doing already for the core group of young people who’ve brought Club Art to life.
It’s just another Thursday night meeting, but as the Club Art executive gathers in their new space, the mood is anything but blasé. “I really want this place to inspire a unique and fresh art culture in the town,” says 20-year-old Club Art co-chair Ricky Schaede, a prolific young local artist transformed by a recent cultural and spiritual awakening in Guatemala. He says Club Art is all about “stretching boundaries.” Such lofty goals are common in this group.
“I knew kids growing up who really suffered and their creativity suffered too because they didn’t have the outlets they needed,” says Humber College art grad, PR/media student and Club Art marketing director Meagan Cooper. “We’re trying to give kids the place, the supplies, the teachers and the inspiration they need to keep out of trouble.”
Local graffiti artist Cameron Courtney is a child and youth worker on the mental health team of Dufferin Child and Family Services. He joined the Club Art executive with his friend Nicola Meyer, a Trent University psychology grad with a post-graduate certificate in autism and behavioural sciences. Explains Cameron, “We all understand how the arts and counterculture connect with children and youth on the margins. Art, of any kind, is just the vehicle to draw these kids into the space.”
Rounding out the group are Julia Poletto, a recent Carlton University human rights grad and now events co-ordinator with the Orangeville BIA, and recent Sheridan College art grads and longtime friends Emily Haws and Jacklyn Hancock. Emily is treasurer and Jacklyn is co-chair – or as the group describes Club Art’s founding executive member, “The Head Honcho.”
It’s clear these 20-somethings connect deeply to this space and what they’re working to create here. They steer the Club Art ship and their sense of ownership of the concept and its future is striking. However, it’s a veteran local champion of the arts, Wayne Baguley, whose wisdom and support first helped launch the group’s remarkable journey.
In 2013, in the twilight of Wayne’s term as president of Headwaters Arts, he focused on one of his fondest objectives: to spark some sort of grassroots youth arts initiative. Though many local arts groups have mentored and engaged youth in various excellent programs, Wayne had a hunch that a program created by youth for youth might offer something different.
The warehouse-like space with its rough brick and towering ceilings on the third floor above As We Grow and Koros Games first inspired Baguley’s notion of a drop-in centre for the arts – a safe place for kids to go, but also where they could meet people in the arts, like painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians, writers and more. It would be a place to exercise their imaginations and maybe envision themselves in this world. Happily, he found a generous kindred spirit in the building owner and Koros Games proprietor Shawn Koroscil.
“I had always envisioned this space as a gallery of sorts, art hanging everywhere,” says Koroscil, who describes himself as an arts lover. “When Wayne came to meet me and described his idea for the space – the art, the community focus – it blew my mind. It was as though we were thinking of the same idea at the same time.” Koroscil happily offered the space part-time for free, and said to consider any improvements, like the murals on the walls, as payment. He also uses the space for his board game events, which have the same drop-in, have-fun vibe.
The next bit of serendipity was Baguley’s choice for the new Headwaters Arts Gallery manager and arts co-ordinator. Then 21, Jacklyn Hancock fully expected to wait tables when she returned home to Orangeville after completing her advanced visual and creative arts program at Sheridan College, Oakville. A job ad her mom found, however, would change all that. One week after graduating, Jacklyn set off for her first day at Headwaters Arts in the Alton Mill.
“Jacklyn had very little experience, but we were impressed by her raw skills, her focus, and we felt an injection of youth might be just what we needed,” recalls Wayne. He was right.
“When we first started working on the Club Art space, I kept pestering Wayne – what do you want with this, what should I do with that, what’s next?” Jacklyn says. “He’d just look at me and say, ‘You know what to do, just do it.’”
“I always say successful art is 50 per cent creativity and 50 per cent business,” says Wayne. “Artists need to figure out how to make a living, how to make things work. That independence and resourcefulness is what I wanted for Jacklyn and for Club Art.” And this bit of Baguley wisdom has made all the difference for both.
With the same hands-off approach and just three weeks before the Club Art space opening on October 19, 2013, Wayne asked Jacklyn to organize a graffiti competition for artists 15 to 25. The mission: to bring the Club Art walls to life. And perhaps better than Baguley, Jacklyn did know exactly what to do.
Of course, she put a notice in the local paper advertising the event, but she also posted competition details on her personal Facebook page and other social media. The response was fast and impressive. About 20 visual artists showed up and completely transformed the space.
“Cam created this massive owl character at the top of the stairs. He said he’d never done anything quite like it before. It’s spectacular,” gushes Shawn Koroscil. “People come up here now and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know kids had a place to do this sort of thing; I didn’t know they could do this sort of thing.’”
This profusion of candid creativity filling the walls was just the beginning. The competition was also the turning point where the youth of the arts community really seized the Club Art reins.
“Wayne had handed over the project to me, but when things started coming together, I realized I couldn’t run things on my own, and juggle my full-time work with Headwaters Arts,” recounts Jacklyn. “I looked around and saw that all the other arts organizations were run by committee – why not Club Art?”
Why not, indeed. Hancock’s longtime friends and fellow artists Meagan Cooper and Emily Haws were naturals to join in. The competition also drew Ricky Schaede, Cameron Courtney and Nicola Meyer into the fold. Julia Poletto joined after chatting with Ricky over smoothies across the street at Euphoria where he works. Forming this talented, enthusiastic committee last January, however, was the easy part.
“We had to start from scratch – even learning how to run a productive meeting,” says Jacklyn. Part of learning to function smoothly as a group was recognizing the unique strengths of each member.
As child and youth workers with a cool arty manner, Cameron and Nicola are the go-to advisors on communication with the kids. A born organizer, Nicola is also the Club Art secretary with a special talent for keeping the self-described “rambling artsy types” focused and on task. Julia uses all her BIA connections to open doors with local businesses and brings her event co-ordinating prowess to every Club Art program.
Meagan, an artist, is also a communications and social media maven. Emily has the left/right brain dexterity to be both creative and to manage the group’s purse strings. And Ricky’s strong artistic spirit, teaching experience and networking skills make him a great co-chair. And with the vision to have seen all this through since its inception, co-chair Jacklyn keeps her eye on the big picture, ensuring all the parts keeping moving.
Since those early days, the group has come far fast. “We’ve formalized our mission and vision statement, developed work processes, created sponsorship packages, learned how to make proposals,” explains Meagan. And while they work autonomously, they also admit freely having benefited from a lot of help.
Beyond strong support from local arts councils, Palgrave-based Marilyn Field and her national organization DAREarts have partnered with Club Art, helping them navigate their registered nonprofit status and setting up bank accounts. Marilyn has also shared her hands-on expertise on how the arts can empower children and youth.
Like Koros Games, other members of the local businesses community have jumped on board with donations and mentoring – Lavender Blue catering and the Orangeville BIA, among others. The Barley Vine Rail Company restaurant sponsored the Club Art Battle of the Bands this past June and will host a “Fusion” Club Art fundraiser this fall featuring, in their words, “Six musicians, six artists and one amazing cause.”
The ripples of Club Art are being felt even by veterans of our local arts community. Working closely with members of Headwaters Arts and Dufferin Arts Council, the emerging artists of the executive have learned much from their more established peers, but they also have a lot to share. Explains Jacklyn, “We bring fresh ideas and know-how like workshops on new ways to digitize your work, and they’re sharing with us years of experience in things like how to network and sell our art. The strengths of our different generations are really coming together.”
The true measure of success for Club Art, however, is in the work they do for local youth and their community. Bimonthly events have included a youth talent showcase, graffiti and abstract art workshops, and youth art showings and sales, among others. Many events combine several art forms like music, poetry readings and dance – there is no fixed formula.
Even the art on the walls continues to evolve, spray-painted over in black now and again in preparation for the next amazing creation. Club Art also supports other local arts events like the DAREarts Leadership Awards, displays in Theatre Orangeville and Euphoria, and the Headwaters Arts Festival. Across the board, response from both participants and the community has been overwhelmingly supportive.
Saturday, June 21, 8 p.m. An eclectic crowd of parents, teenagers, younger siblings, neighbours, local business owners and sundry musicians, pours into the Club Art space. Six bands have signed up for Club Art’s Battle of the Bands, a night to celebrate young musicians and validate their countless hours spent jamming behind garage doors across the region.
The music begins and, as Cameron describes it, “The energy in the room becomes surreal. Afterward, no one rushes off. They’re hanging around outside letting the experience of the night linger.” He smiles and adds, “This one lead singer says, ‘We’re just getting on the map, man.’ It was really something to see this kid so pumped up over what was probably his first gig.”
Despite the countless volunteer hours put in by the Club Art executive, each member will tell you they’re getting far more out of the experience than they’re putting in. Jacklyn and Emily have had their art displayed in the Barley Vine Rail Company; comedian Rick Mercer bought one of Jacklyn’s graffiti pieces at a DAREarts fundraiser in Toronto; Meagan got a great summer gig via Julia with the local BIA; Cameron and Nicola are enriching their careers in child and youth work; Ricky is thriving on the teaching, creating and networking. Jacklyn, like the others, says the additions to her résumé from all this are too numerous to detail.
Clearly, this group are united by deep satisfaction in their Club Art work. However, they are each at just the beginning of their creative careers. Jacklyn admits that many of them, all young striving people, may eventually feel compelled to leave the region to explore new challenges farther afield.
“I will definitely stay doing what I’m doing for as long as I’m learning. After that, who knows what’s next,” reflects Jacklyn. Still, if the spirit of Club Art takes root, if the space becomes a permanent centre for youth and creativity, Jacklyn and her group may just return here someday to an arts community that’s profoundly richer for what they, and their very wise mentors, have envisioned.