Student-led Initiative to Raise Mental Health Awareness While Supporting Young Artists
When Etobicoke School of the Arts (ESA) students Audrey Irenheard, Mathilda Stock and Gabe Moses noticed the inequalities surrounding Toronto’s mental health landscape and the lack of accessibility to mental health services, they started to do some research and were shocked by the stigma surrounding mental health and mental health illnesses in Toronto. For example, according to www.CMHA.ca, 63% of Ontario youth believe the stigma surrounding mental health is the reason youth choose not to seek help. With this in mind, the team set out to raise awareness and to help change attitudes.
Five months ago, an initiative called Teens Advocating for Mental Awareness (T.A.M.A.) was launched and the students quickly decided that its first project would be a youth art gallery to raise funds for mental health services in Toronto, while also raising mental health awareness and supporting young artists. The choice to focus on young artists was made because of the unique form of escapism it offers and the fact that it acts as an incomparable outlet and is an accessible medium for most youth.
With a specific mission and goal in mind, the team moved forward with planning Art ‘n Mind and partnered with the Skylark Youth, Children, and Families because of the amazing work they do for the Toronto community. Leah Kosowan from Skylark explains it best when she says:
"Skylark is a leading Toronto-based charity dedicated to children, young people and their families struggling with complex mental health and developmental needs. Skylark operates three walk-ins in the community that are free, easily accessible, welcoming and open six days per week. Upon entering, Skylark wraps its arms around the youth and their family to ensure they have access to the services that they need. The money raised by the youth organizing the T.A.M.A. Art Gallery goes directly to support young people and their families who access these free services.”
With a limited budget, the team set out to find a space to hold their fundraising event: Art ‘n Mind. By gaining the generous support of Artscape Youngplace and holding small fundraisers at Etobicoke School of the Arts (ESA), they were able to afford the cost of the gallery and additional expenses. The students also found that their fundraisers provided a great opportunity to connect with peers to discuss what the team was doing and also discovered how important many young people consider mental health services. As morning volunteer and fellow ESA student Paul Maiquez-Gamester explains:
“Making pancakes in the morning showed me how dedicated the ESA community is to mental health awareness, not only was it an enjoyable and positive experience but it also made me feel like I was making a difference.”
A website and Instagram page was established for young artists to submit their artwork and the team spent a lot of time connecting with social workers to get the word out about the event. There were also visits to elementary schools to encourage students to submit artwork and Skylark printed Art ‘n Mind posters to display in shops local to Artscape Youngplace.
The entire experience has been very uplifting for the organizers as they experience the positive reactions to this important work and see the excitement in young artists’ faces when presented with the opportunity to show artwork in a gallery. The team has been met with endless support and encouragement from Skylark and Artscape Youngplace, as well as ESA principal Mr. Fawthrop and teachers Robert Mandl and Glenn Novak. Without their support and help, Art ‘n Mind could have never become a reality and the team is incredibly thankful.
Art ‘n Mind is now days away and the team is excited to see the culmination of all their hard work. The work featured in Art ‘n Mind represents a diverse and vibrant range of skills and creativity in a number of different mediums, and it paints a picture of the current artistic and mental health landscape amongst Toronto youth. Its aim is to encourage both up and coming youth artists and those struggling with their mental health in Toronto, and to inspire even the smallest amount of change.
Come out and join the team at Art ‘n Mind to see a beautiful gallery! Art ‘n Mind will run from Monday, March 9 to Friday, March 13 at Artscape Youngplace (180 Shaw Street) and all the proceeds will be split evenly between young artists and Skylark Youth, Families and Children.