Iqaluit Youth Arts Month: Not Just for Kids


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"I'm Jay, and I draw for a living."

This is how Jonathan Wright (Jay) introduced himself at the Character Design and Animation Workshop, part of this year's Iqaluit Youth Arts Month. Sitting at the back of the class with my notebook and camera, I glanced tentatively at the stack of blank sketch paper in front of me. I can write. I can take photos. But I am darn well sure that I cannot draw. Despite that pretty strong assertion, I still went to the workshop, my first Iqaluit Youth Arts Month experience ever.

Before I get any further into this post, I should tell you: I am 29 years old, and by the end of this calendar year, I will be 30. In the day-to-day of being Anubha, this fact plays little or no consequence; age, mine nor others, is not a factor in my decision-making. Except perhaps when it comes to things labelled by and/or for "youth." I have an RRSP and a slow cooker and a subscription to The Walrus - I am, on most days, a bonafide adult.

Now, that's just the sort of attitude Pascale Arpin wants to dispel. A local artist, designer, and community educator, Pascale has been coordinating the Iqaluit youth arts events since 2012.

"I don't know why the 20-30 crowd thinks the workshops aren't for them. The technical definition of youth in Canada is 13-30!" she declared when I told her I was an old (I was being facetious).

Look at those smiles! Three of the Character Animation Workshop participants. Ages unknown. Photo by Anubha.

Look at those smiles! Three of the Character Animation Workshop participants. Ages unknown. Photo by Anubha.

Not only is Iqaluit Youth Arts Month meant for adolescents to (younger) adults alike, but it is also geared to all skill levels. Originally, the workshops only ran for a week as part of National Youth Arts Week, but Pascale has expanded the program. The schedule includes a variety of awesome sessions, from spoken word to skateboarding, all free for anyone aged 13-30.

Each Iqaluit Youth Arts Month class is led by a resident or visiting instructor. As stated above, the Character Animation course was facilitated by Jay, an Iqaluit-based illustrator who regularly works with local companies Inhabit Media and Taqqut Productions, and also freelances for various other publications (he is the artist behind this caricature of Rob Ford).

Jay noting down ideas from the audience for an animated story. Photo by Anubha.

Jay noting down ideas from the audience for an animated story. Photo by Anubha.

The evening started with an intro to Jay's work (you must check out his portfolio) and career progression (he started as an architect) before we got our assignment: develop a fantasy storyline with four characters. Here's what we came up with:

  • Protagonist: A half-dog, half-kindergartener with a rainbow sword
  • Villain: An evil burrito that turns his victims into salsa monsters
  • Steed: A lazy uni-kitty (that's a unicorn cat chimera)
  • And a bearded lady

The 16 attendees were split into four groups, one for each character, and asked to collaborate on a design. Surrounded by a group of boisterous young folk, I sat back as they brainstormed, sketched, and argued. Ideas flowed freely as charcoal met paper, and I found myself struggling to keep up with the speed and intensity at which these young artists were able to think and create. And not only were they wildly imaginative, but some demonstrated already impressive abilities.

Stunning digital sketches by one participant. Photo by Thurka Gunaratnam.

Stunning digital sketches by one participant. Photo by Thurka Gunaratnam.

You might be asking at this point, "Did you learn to draw, Anubha?" And my honest answer is no, not any better than I could before. But I didn't expect one group class would take me from pitiful to Picasso, and really, that's not what Iqaluit Youth Arts Month is about.

"The real goal [is to] provide youth with the opportunity to get engaged and express themselves creatively," Pascale told me. In essence, what she has created is a safe space for youth to come together and experiment and innovate, without expectations or assessments. Free thinking and sharing, with a focus on the creative journey, not just the results.

Final sketches for each of the four characters. Photo by Pascale Arpin.

Final sketches for each of the four characters. Photo by Pascale Arpin.

It is perhaps this permissive, non-prescriptive experience that is most poignant for us "older" youth, we who are so often steered by deadlines and meetings and yields. Even as a creative professional, I, too, limit myself to the confines of project expectations, blog necessities, or social media solutions, often forgetting that the art of creation can be an end unto itself. What better way to free your mind and reawaken your inner child than at a free, youth-led, youth-focused initiative? If nothing else, it may help keep us all young at heart.

Iqaluit Youth Arts Month is on until the end of May. For more information, please email makuktu@gmail.com and be sure to come out to the Big Arts Celebration on May 29th!