Written by DAREarts artist-educator Lori Sherritt-Fleming.
“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” James Humes
What if you could not speak or write what you felt? What if you felt trapped or silenced? What if you had the drive, but not the tools? This is where the arts help. This is where the arts heal and empower. This is where the arts give voice to those who are afraid to speak. And this is what DAREarts accomplished [in January].
Finding your voice and sharing your gifts were two key themes of the DAREarts program in Vancouver this January. DAREarts is a charity that empowers kids through specialized arts workshops that are led by Shelley MacDonald and local arts professionals. Inspired by Indigenous actor, John Aitken, and his play, ‘The Gift’, a class of grade seven students from Britannia Elementary School spent five intense days excavating their inner voice and speaking through their artistry in a public Showcase held on January 26th.
Every day began and ended with a circle where everyone could reflect on their goals, challenges and successes. On the first day, students were asked, “What do you bring?” Some responses included, “I bring my passion. I bring my respect. I bring my sense of humour. I bring my words.” Deep and varying revelations for young leaders. These circles provided a foundation for moving forward and served as a reminder that, everyone, no matter how young, no matter what obstacles they may be scaling, bring something of value to our circles.
Through a multitude of art forms: drama, creative writing, spoken word, digital media, dance, movement, visual art and music, students were encouraged to take risks, to collaborate and communicate, to celebrate their strengths and to offer leadership, empathy and active support to those struggling with their voices. They were encouraged to ‘go where they were needed’.
As the Showcase neared, students designed the content and running order for the presentation and many, eager to communicate how inspired and transformed they had been, offered to bring in their own instruments and play them, write and perform their own monologues and choreograph their own dances in addition to the collective pieces.
Below is part of the monologue one student, Oliyad, wrote and performed, inspired by his week with DAREarts. With immigration, integration and acceptance so high on people’s radar these days, his words remind us how challenging it is to be new and how, most of the time, all people want is a friend: someone to connect with, even if they do not know how to reach out. It reminds us to be more aware, to take notice, to help those who want to speak, find their voices. DAREarts accomplishes this is so many ways.
“I come from Kenya in Africa. My first language is Swahili. When I first came to Canada six months ago, I didn’t talk, laugh or play. I wanted to have friends but my voice didn’t work. I tried to talk but I was afraid. I wanted to join others and play with them but my voice was not there.
Finally after a couple of months I spoke. Once I began to use my words, I found it easier to make friends. My voice is important. It allows me to communicate with others. It tells people who I am and allows me to express who I am.”
Another young student, Ione, was a selective mute. She had only just begun to speak this school year. She shone on stage and voluntarily took on leadership roles that celebrated her voice. She moved from silence to a whisper to a gentle roar, finding that her voice mattered and that she had a safe place to develop and share it.
These students and many more of their peers were immersed, through the DAREarts program, in artful communication. Judging by the confidence they exuded in their presentation, they now have a firm grasp of the language of leadership and how each of them can contribute to the wider circles they will encounter as they continue to grow.
DAREarts is a children’s charity that uses the arts to empower at-risk young people to become leaders. Our lead supporters are Northbridge Insurance, Scotiabank, and TD Bank Group. Supporters of this DAREarts Vancouver program are ArtStarts, Parker Art Salon, and Marketwired (in-kind donation). We would like to give special thanks to Presentation House and to Britannia Elementary and Secondary Schools.