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Toronto's Sketch program for marginalized youth gets $20,000 boost from TD music grant

For a woman with a voice that can make a whole room sit up and take notice, singer Helen Carlson is soft spoken when asked about her musical aspirations.

“I’m hoping to get a little CD out soon,” she says, smiling.

Carlson, who goes by the stage name Aki Katsu, sings pop and neo-soul. She’s just one of the participants in Sketch, a community arts initiative dedicated to engaging marginalized youth in the arts. For the last two years, she’s been coming to the Toronto-based program for a few hours a week, honing her skills in singing and sound engineering.

Carlson, 25, says if it weren’t for Sketch, she would’ve never been introduced to new genres of music and would’ve never had the opportunity to work with professional musicians like former Black Cabbage frontman Michael O’Connell.

“It’s been really amazing working with Michael. He’s become a mentor and challenges me to try new things,” she says.

On Tuesday morning she and other Sketch members showcased their skills with O’Connell and Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew to a room full of media at the Sketch Working Arts Program site in the Masaryk-Cowan Community Centre in Parkdale.

The performance was the capper to an event announcing the recipients of a $200,000 MusiCounts TD Community Music Grant program. The fledgling program is the brainchild of Drew, who two years ago wondered -- during a meeting with youth music charity MusiCounts, -- how the organization could get involved in funding music programs outside of schools.

“It didn’t take a lot of effort. Allan Reid (director of MusiCounts) was really the guy who found a way to make it happen and I’ll always be grateful for that,” says Drew.

TD agreed to come on board to help fund the program – which donated funds to 15 community groups across Canada. This included a $20,000 grant for Sketch, which helped purchase new instruments and computers – items that will be put to good use, judging by the quality of Tuesday’s performance.

“It’s simple to get people together and help them find their strengths,” said Drew, who made his speech short and sweet. “Less talk, more rock is how we do things,” he insisted.

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