Toronto art space for homeless and at-risk youth scoops Ruth Atkinson Hindmarsh Award
SKETCH, which runs programs focusing on several artistic disciplines for over 850 youth every year, wins $50,000 prize
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SKETCH, a Toronto art space that works with street-involved, homeless and at-risk youth, has been awarded the annual $50,000 Ruth Atkinson Hindmarsh Award (RAHA).
The Atkinson Foundation and Hindmarsh family, who support the award, presented it to SKETCH Thursday night during a celebration of the art space’s 20th anniversary.
Now in its 18th year, the Ruth Atkinson Hindmarsh Award is given to an Ontario organization whose work supports children and youth living in precarious situations. Its namesake, Ruth Atkinson Hindmarsh, was a life-long advocate for disadvantaged children and youth and president of the Atkinson Foundation until her death in 1994.
“At SKETCH, young people can access unparalleled opportunities, find a sense of belonging and purpose in a community that encourages creative skill-building,” said Emily Mathieu, who presented the award on behalf of the Hindmarsh family. Mathieu is Atkinson Hindmarsh’s great-granddaughter and a reporter for the Toronto Star.
“Without these kinds of supports, it’s often difficult for homeless youth to move towards a more meaningful path,” she said. “My great grandmother understood the need to bridge that gap. I know she would be very happy with SKETCH being honoured this year.”
SKETCH runs programs focusing on several disciplines, including visual arts, culinary arts, music, movement and performance arts, textile arts and screen printing, and also 10-week skill-building workshops that end with a showcase for street-involved and homeless youth. It also serves lunch and dinner during programs, which works out to about 5,000 meals a year, and is accessed by over 850 youth every year. More than 10,000 youth have participated in SKETCH programs since its inception in 1996.
“What we’re doing, basically, is working and partnering with young people . . . to invite them to look at their creativity, build upon those skills and develop all kinds of opportunities through the art,” SKETCH program director Rose Gutierrez explained.
On top of funding existing programs, the award will also help support a new program aimed at young parents with babies or small children, Gutierrez said. It’s a program SKETCH was running with “basically no funding” before.
“With this money, we’re able to build a deeper engagement. We’re able to build leadership with young people who are young parents through the arts,” she said.
“There’s lots of support in terms of them being with young babies, but not so much in terms of them as young individuals, so this investment is about them, which, in turn, is an investment in their kids.”
“Over the years, we have seen that young parents are a vulnerable, desperately underserved community, and face much stigma,” SKETCH founder and artistic director Phyllis Novak said.
“This award helps us engage young parents and have a positive impact on the health, wellbeing, and sense of purpose and belonging of their families. When these young parents become more resilient and capable, they go on to build creative careers and lead social change, as do their children.”
The award presentation was just one part of SKETCH’s massive 20th birthday party. Hundreds of attendees had the chance to explore part of SKETCH’s 7,500 sq.-ft. facility, where, along the main hallway, a massive timeline art exhibit highlighted key points in each year of SKETCH’s 20-year history.
The collage-style pieces for each year, which stretched from floor to ceiling, featured newspaper clippings and small write-ups explaining the significance of certain programs, and also photos of youth taking part in activities such as drawing, painting, dance and spoken-word poetry. Many of the programs and art pieces revolved around themes of identity, including being indigenous, black, queer, or even identifying with the punk subculture.
There was also a small marketplace, where SKETCH artists sold wares ranging from jewelry to paintings to clothing. Performances by dancers, musicians and poets peppered the evening.
“This is really a celebration of 20 years of home-making,” said Novak, who began tearing up as she thanked the 10,000 youth who have participated in SKETCH programs for bringing their creativity and energy to “our house.”