DAREarts Blog

Discipline, Action, Responsibility, Excellence

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2017 DAREarts Toronto Summer Camp – “Be not afraid of greatness.”

In the final weeks of July, 25 DAREarts Toronto Summer Campers leapt into the whimsical world of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Walmer Centre and the TSA (Toronto School of Art), thanks to the generosity of Northbridge Insurance, the TSA, Wells Fargo, United Way Worldwide, Coach Canada, and the Stratford Festival. The teens, aged 11 to 18, engaged in intensive arts workshops led by DAREarts Lead Teacher Laura MacKinnon, artist-educator Jennifer Parr, and DAREarts Lead Teaching Assistant Mackenzy Willis. Assisting the teens were our seasoned DAREarts youth mentors: Dante, Jaiden, Samira, and Sylvia.

In just seven days, our campers were dared to put on their own abridged performance of Twelfth Night, adapted for DAREarts by Jennifer Parr. The teens were eager to become their own theatre company after an introduction to the work. By the end of their first day together, they felt confidently versed in Iambic Pentameter and the plot of Twelfth Night. The following days were filled with workshops to help our campers refine their artistry as they worked toward their performance.

Visual Artist Tina Oehmsen-Clark of the Toronto School of Art led the campers through the process of creating their own backdrop masterpieces, where the campers used ink and alcohol to layer colours into abstract works of art. Volunteer Zlata Huddleston of Wells Fargo assisted the campers using her own arts experience. Musician Ciara Adams led a singing workshop and taught three versions of one of the most well-known Shakespearean songs, Feste’s “Hey Ho, the Wind and the Rain”. Kaitlyn Riordan, Artistic Director of Shakespeare in the Ruff, helped our young company delve deeper into the text of Twelfth Night, enabling them to better interpret Shakespeare’s verse.

On their sixth day of camp, our burgeoning company staged their final scenes and worked on rehearsing to perfection. Many even chose to stay for an extra hour to keep practicing! During the day they were joined by CBC Radio’s Rima Hamadi, who interviewed four of the campers and DAREarts Lead Teacher Laura MacKinnon. Listen here.

There wasn’t a shred of nervousness left as the campers arrived on their performance day. With great confidence, they did two full rehearsals of the show in the morning! On their makeshift stage decorated with their artworks, they greeted the audience after everyone settled in and then took to the spotlight. From the opening shipwreck ensemble to the traditional jig after the final scene, the campers supported each other with precise timing and flawlessly executed lines!

After the show, a reception allowed the teens and their families to connect with us about this experience. One parent shared how proud she was to see both of her daughters share an arts opportunity together, something they hadn’t done before. Another shared how important this was as her child’s school has been cutting back on arts programming. Many others shared how much this experience meant to their children, and how amazed they were at the calibre of their work. We wholeheartedly agree — we’re so proud of our campers!

To finish their camp experience, the teens had one more day ahead of them — their journey to the Stratford Festival to see Twelfth Night performed by a world-renowned theatre company! The trip began with a 2-hour drive from Toronto to Stratford, and upon arrival we were brought into the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s costume warehouse for a tour. The teens learned the history of many of the costumes, and were thrilled to be able to try on several pieces. After lunch in the park, we met with resident teaching artist Edward Daranyi to present a special mural created by the youth of Neskantaga First Nation as part of the DAREarts-Stratford Spirit Bear Project. We then journeyed to the Festival Theatre to see Twelfth Night, followed by a Q&A with actors E.B. Smith and Emilio Vieira. The day ended with a trip to Boston Pizza, where the teens had the chance to unwind and reflect on their experiences at Stratford. We then boarded the bus for the long journey home.

“This was my first time attending DAREarts Summer Camp, and it was an awesome experience. I was really nervous since it was my first time acting, but really quickly I felt comfortable. I think that this summer had to be the most funnest summer I’ve ever had. Thank you to everyone who helps with this program, I hope to see you next year!” – Candy

DAREarts is a children’s charity that uses the arts to empower at-risk young people to become leaders. DAREarts is grateful to all its supporters including National Supporter: Northbridge Insurance; Lead Supporters: Anne Livingston, Scotiabank, TD Bank Group and Bank of America Merrill Lynch; and Summer Camp Education Partners: Toronto School of Art, Wells Fargo, United Way Worldwide, Stratford Festival, Coach Canada, and TDSB. We’d like to send a special thank you to volunteers Alan DunlopZlata Huddleston, and Kaitlyn Riordan.


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DAREarts Toronto Spring Gr. 8 Grads: My Identity is… Success!

On Wednesday, May 31st, the Bata Shoe Museum generously hosted the DAREarts Toronto Spring grade 8 class graduation celebration. Over 8 weeks of DAREarts Days, 27 Grade 8 delegates had explored identity and leadership through music, drama, dance, literature and visual art.

Laura MacKinnon, DAREarts Lead Teacher, welcomed the audience of families, teachers, DAREarts supporters and community leaders.  Annie Appleby, TDSB Central Superintendent & DAREarts Director, spoke on behalf of the TDSB. The class then began their presentation: two spoken word poems they created with SPIN El Poeta at DAIS, two drama pieces created with Little Black Afro Theatre, a short film created at TIFF, a dance learned with Fly Lady Di, and a song they wrote with Sheldon De Souza.  Self-portraits they painted with youth artist Ricky Schaede vibrantly reflected their identities on the walls.

Each DAREarts graduate received a medallion.  The William Stevenson Award for Excellence in Writing, presented by Emmy-award winning producer Monika Jensen-Stevenson, went to Valerie, whose poetry showed that, despite her shy demeanour, she has a strong voice. The James Westcott Award, presented by DAREarts supporter Nancy Westcott, went to Ezra, whose positivity and humour inspired the entire class.  The Crichton Community Leadership Award, presented by retired principal and DAREarts supporter Eileen Crichton, went to DAREarts graduate and volunteer extraordinaire Dante Scholar to help him further his paralegal studies.

We’d like to extend a special thank you to Sheila Knox, Head of Education & Programming for the Bata Shoe Museum, for making this evening possible. We also thank our young volunteers Iris Benedikt, Elijah Brown, Alan Dunlop, Kiranpreet Kaur Bhangu, Patrik Montelibano, and Dante Scholar.

Over 150 students from 26 schools spanning Toronto’s downtown core to east Scarborough attended the spring program as DAREarts “delegates”.  They were empowered with the job of going back to their respective schools after each DAREarts Day to peer-teach their classmates what they had learned.

Toronto participating schools this spring were: Brock PS, Cedarbrook PS, Chine Drive PS, Corvette JS, Cosburn MS, Earl Haig PS, Eastview PS, Equinox Holistic Alternative, Fairbank Memorial CS, George Webster ES, Gordon A. Brown MS, Jesse Ketchum PS, Joseph Brant PS, Niagara Street JPS, Pauline JPS, Queen Victoria PS, RH McGregor ES, Regent Heights PS, Roden PS, Samuel Hearne MS, Sloane PS, St. Andrew’s PS, Westwood MS, Willow Park JS & Winchester PS.

DAREarts thanks its supporters including National Supporter: Northbridge Insurance; Lead Supporters: Anne Livingston, Scotiabank, TD Bank Group and the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario; Education Partner: the TDSB; Grade 8 Class Sponsor: Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Photos courtesy of volunteer photographer Alan Dunlop.

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DAREarts Toronto Spring Students Showcase Leadership

DAREarts Toronto Spring Grade 4s

The 2017 DAREarts Toronto Spring program for kids from 26 schools concluded with 150 young leaders. On each grade’s final DAREarts Day, they held a showcase for their families.  These intimate gatherings gave each child a platform to say what DAREarts meant to them.  They then shared their creativity and knowledge learned from their series of arts workshops.

The DAREarts Grade 4s shared a drama inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream created with Jamie Robinson, a Voyage Song created with Ciara Adams, and an Afro-Caribbean dance learned from Tereka Tyler-Davis. They displayed watercolour self-portraits created with Ilana Van Zyl plus Japanese calligraphy created at the JCCC.

DAREarts Toronto Spring Grade 5s

The DAREarts Grade 5s shared a Bharatanatyam Indian dance learned from Suma Nair of Sampradaya Dance Creations, a Baroque dance learned from Jeannette Zingg of Opera Atelier, a song to Handel’s Messiah created with Sarah Hicks, and a Commedia dell’arte drama created with Jamie Robinson. They displayed Chiaroscuro still-life block prints, plus ornate clay shoes created at the Gardiner Museum with inspiration from the Bata Shoe Museum’s galleries.

DAREarts Toronto Spring Grade 6s

The DAREarts Grade 6s demonstrated stage combat learned from Erick Fournier and Louisa Zhu, dramatic insults from Cyrano de Bergerac, a ballet created with Hannah Mae Cruddas of Ballet Jorgen, and a gargoyle opera created with Cathy Nosaty and Alix Sideris. They displayed Impressionist-inspired landscapes created with Sann Sann Lam, plus clay gargoyles created at the Gardiner Museum inspired by Casa Loma.

The DAREarts Grade 7s shared an Afro-Contemporary dance learned from Tereka Tyler-Davis, West African-inspired drumming they learned from Rufus Glassco of Rhythm Kingdom, a fashion show of 20th Century-inspired fashions they sewed with Lise Godel, and Blues lyrics they wrote with Jazz.FM91’s David Wall, Rob Christian, Lucian Gray, and John Mavrogiannis. They displayed mixed-media pieces created with Gloria Hope.

DAREarts Toronto Spring Grade 7s

The DAREarts Grade 8s held a special graduation celebration at the Bata Shoe Museum. Read about their evening here.

We thank our youth mentors: Iris Benedikt, Kiranpreet Kaur Bhangu and Dante Scholar. We also thank volunteers Bonnie Masina and Riina Muzaffar and especially our volunteer photographer, Alan Dunlop.

DAREarts appreciates its supporters including National Supporter: Northbridge Insurance; Lead Supporters: Anne Livingston, Scotiabank, TD Bank Group and the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario; Education Partner: the TDSB; Grade 8 Class Sponsor: Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

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Artist-Educator Glenn Marais Reflects on Winter Showcase Music – ‘Spirit Of the North’

Written by DAREarts Artist-Educator, Glenn Marais.

Music is a gift to all of us. It echoes in our hearts and minds and resonates forever in our consciousness. Great songs can transport us to a specific time and place and a memory within seconds of the first note or chord and just like that, we are whisked away and under its spell.

Writing songs with my young friends from DAREarts is a true passion of mine. We write at a frenzied pace, starting at 9:30 and finishing with a recorded song at 2:30. The songs are written based on theme and once selected, I share song writing techniques and examples by singing popular and classic songs and then we send them off in small groups to brainstorm words, then lyrics which become verses, chorus’, rap sections and melodies developed to match their words.

The teachers and myself are continually blown away by their creations and this years’ Gr. 8 class took it to another level thanks to the generosity and compassion of the people at DAIS.  DAIS is a creative arts and music studio in Toronto, featuring five floors of recording studios, writing spaces, meeting rooms, multi-media and more. It is a cornucopia of creativity and we had it for the day to create and record our song. What a blessing. This building is incredible and eclipsed only by the generous nature and enthusiasm of the owner, Sol Guy and staff.

Our theme this year was self and our place in the world and how we can make a difference. It’s all in the lyrics written by these insightful, compassionate and intelligent students.

I could feel their nervousness at the rehearsal prior to Thursday’s performance, but I wasn’t concerned. It was a caring tension. It felt like they were presenting their song to the audience with a compassion born from creating it and a pride in their work. As if they wanted it all to come out with the same beauty as the creation of it. I admired them for that love of their craft and respect for their art.

When they performed, it was with grace and poise and attitude in the rap sections and power in the chorus. They owned it and it showed in their beaming faces as they smiled at the end with the applause of their parents, family and friends washing over them.

At the end of the show all of our DAREarts students gave a gift, a musical handshake to the people of Webequie First Nations reserve. They sang the song, “Spirit of the North”, composed by myself, and teachers and students of Simon Jacob Memorial School in Webequie. We wrote the song in October 2012 as part of a healing process after one of Webequie’s fine young men, Jordan Wabasse, passed away while living in Thunder Bay pursuing his dream of playing hockey at a high level.  He was found by the Kaministiquia River three months after disappearing in February of 2011.

The entire community was devastated and his classmates in particular where in shock and in mourning over the loss of their friend and someone they all looked up to.  We composed the song to heal our battered souls and to offer hope and love to the community. The lyrics seemed to flow out of us and the song grew around it like a protective cocoon. When we performed it in Webequie, the students sang with incredible passion and feeling, releasing their pain and opening their hearts again to healing and possibility. It was an incredible time to be with them and share that journey.

The students sang the song last night as if it were their own. There was a resounding power and joy in their voices as they sang together, in harmony, extending their hearts to our friends in the Far North.  I had shivers up and down my spine as I sang with them and felt the emotion coming out of our DAREarts students in waves of uninhibited passion. I’ll never forget that moment and if their words have wings the people of Webequie must have heard them last night and felt the splendour and glory of the moment.

This program does so much more than produce great music. It creates great moments of triumph through struggle, growth through understanding of self and a shared passion for the arts and each other that is developed and nurtured through the DARE values. I try to live by these values too because they are guiding lights and reminders of what we can be when we try our best.

DAREarts Artist
Glenn Marais

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DAREarts Uses Creativity to Empower Rexdale Area Kids

Last night, March 2nd 2017, DAREarts, a charity that empowers kids using the arts, held its annual DAREarts Winter Showcase at North Albion Collegiate Institute (NACI) in Rexdale, ON. 

The event showcased over 130 children, grades 4 through 8, from 13 Rexdale area schools.  With the theme “Promenade Through Time,” the Showcase features visual art, fashion, drama, dance, music and film, created by the youths with arts professionals, that time-traveled from the past to the present: from the Renaissance to hip hop.  Highlights included Juno-nominated musician Glenn Marais performing alongside Grade 8 students, and David Wall, blues artist and Jazz.FM91’s Director of Community Outreach and Education, alongside Grade 7 students. Community leaders attending included Deputy Mayor Vincent Crisanti, Councillor Michael Ford, TDSB Associate Director Christopher Usih, TDSB SOE Glenford Duffus and TDSB System Superintendent Annie Appleby.

This event is critical at a time when many young people face difficult choices. Bullying, peer pressure, youth violence and delinquency are just a few of their harsh, daily realities. With a severe lack of leadership opportunities or creative outlets, kids often become targets of negative influences. DAREarts closes the opportunity gap by giving these kids artistic, learning and personal development opportunities.  Participating schools were Albion Heights JMS, Beaumonde Heights JMS, Boys Leadership Academy, Chalkfarm JS, Claireville JS, Cookstown Central PS, Elmbank JMA, The Elms JMS, Greenholme JMS, Humberwood Downs JMA, Melody Village JS, Smithfield MS and West Humber JMS.

DAREarts operates nationally and is centred around the power of the arts and the DARE principles of Discipline, Action, Responsibility and Excellence.  DAREarts’ Toronto program works with 9 to 14 year olds from schools in high-priority neighbourhoods, empowering them to become leaders.  Select schools choose two students from Grades 4 to 8 who are in need of broader opportunities. DAREarts Lead Teacher, Laura MacKinnon, and a team of arts professionals take the children to many arts venues across Toronto, including the AGO, the Aga Khan Museum, DAIS, Ballet Jorgen, the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, and the Toronto School of Art, where they explore cultures and then themselves create.  After each DAREarts Day, the student ‘delegates’ are tasked with going back to their home schools to peer teach their classmates what they have learned, becoming sharers of knowledge and cultures in the process. The annual Winter Showcase is a celebration of all they have learned in the program and a testament to their potential as future leaders.

“I’m incredibly proud of what these children have achieved in building their confidence and courage to be leaders through their DAREarts experiences,” says DAREarts founder Marilyn Field. “Their inner discipline, talent and creativity is truly admirable.  It’s proof that, with the right opportunity, our kids can achieve anything.”

Established 21 years ago, DAREarts has a proven track record of inspiring at-risk kids to reach their full potential. DAREarts has reached over 200,000 kids, giving many the necessary skills to avoid the pitfalls of drugs, guns and gangs and, instead, take up the arms of paint brushes, voices, instruments and acting. DAREarts’ success stories include young adults in business, medicine, law and education who may have been lost without the program.

DAREarts thanks its national supporter Northbridge Insurance and its lead supporters Scotiabank, TD Bank Group, Anne Livingston and the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.  Local Education Partners include the TDSB –The Toronto District School Board.

Photos courtesy Alan Dunlop.

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Ringing in the New Year with Discipline, Action, Responsibility and Excellence


Our grade 8s explored identity as they painted abstract self-portraits with artist-educator Ricky Schaede. Photo by Mackenzy Willis.

There’s a saying as January 1st arrives: “New year, new you!” It’s the chance to start over, and to redefine ourselves for the better. DAREarts has already been working hard to help our youth redefine themselves as excellent, capable young leaders – a resolution that will empower 150 Rexdale-area children!

In December, we met with our new student delegates from 14 Northwest Etobicoke-area schools. These children have begun their DAREarts journey to empowerment as young leaders, leaving their schools for several full days of immersive arts education that help build the DARE values of Discipline, Action, Responsibility/Respect and Excellence. Coming in from grades four to eight, each class has now experienced two of their nine DAREarts Days.

Each DAREarts delegate is carefully selected by their school for a variety of reasons, many of which include bullying, poverty, underdeveloped social skills, or challenges at home or school. When a school signs on for DAREarts, they send us their students who are most in need of opportunity, and who need to find their inner leader before it’s too late.

Artist-Educator Jamie Robinson brings our Grade 4s into Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream on their Drama Day. Photo by Alan Dunlop.

Artist-Educator Jamie Robinson brought our Grade 4s into Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Alan Dunlop.

Our children have already encountered many incredible experiences in their first three weeks of DAREarts Days, working with our teaching team plus renowned artist-educators, including actor Jamie Robinson, stage combat choreographer Casey Hudecki, artistic director Kevin Ormsby of Kashedance, award-winning visual artists Sann Sann Lam, Ricky Schaede, and Ilana van Zyl, Ojibway artist Gloria Hope, sculptor Bruce Brown, and artistic director Luke Reece and actor Bria McLaughlin of Little Black Afro Theatre. They’ve explored the galleries of the AGO, discovered ornate historical footwear at the Bata Shoe Museum, dug into clay at the Gardiner Museum, and painted in the studios of the Toronto School of Art.

Artist-Educator Kevin Ormsby had our grade 7s moving with a day of Afro-Contemporary dance! Photo by Alan Dunlop.

Artist-Educator Kevin Ormsby had our grade 7s moving with a day of Afro-Contemporary dance! Photo by Alan Dunlop.

As they gain new knowledge and try new things, each DAREarts “delegate” has a mission at the end of the day: they are dared to teach their classmates back at school what they have learned at DAREarts, allowing more children to gain new educational insights while our delegates put their new leadership skills into practice.

These experiences are reshaping our delegates’ outlooks on themselves, their peers, and the world. They are redefining themselves through the “DARE” values of Discipline, Action, Responsibility, and Excellence.

Our delegates have so much more to experience in the weeks to come, all leading up to their special showcase at North Albion Collegiate (NACI) on March 2nd! Join us!

DAREarts is a children’s charity that uses the arts to empower at-risk young people to become leaders. Our lead sponsors are Northbridge Insurance, Scotiabank, TD Bank Groupand the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

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DAREarts Youth Experience Opera Atelier’s Dido and Aeneas!


img_0238On Tuesday, October 18th, 25 DAREarts youth and families were invited to see a very special dress rehearsal performance of Opera Atelier’s Dido and Aeneas.

As the children arrived at the Elgin Theatre, we were welcomed into the lower lounge for a pre-show discussion with Opera Atelier’s Senior Manager of Communications & Education, Bronwen Bradley. After a quick introduction to opera, Bronwen highlighted many of the components that make Opera Atelier a world-class leader in Baroque period productions. The young teens were enthralled to learn that they would be seeing an opera in a way that it would have been performed in the Baroque era, and that many of the instruments being used by the orchestra, Tafelmusik, were over 300 years old!

After meeting with Bronwen, the group was led to the theatre and seated. Opera Atelier’s Co-Artistic Director, Marshall Pynkoski, welcomed the audience and explained the process of the rehearsal. Between these explanations and Bronwen’s shared knowledge, the youths were eager to enjoy their first opera experience! When the performance concluded, everyone rushed home to be ready for school the next day – but not without smiles and thoughtful reflections on the incredible experience they just had.

We would like to extend a tremendous thank you to Opera Atelier for inviting our children into the beautiful world of Baroque opera!

DAREarts is a children’s charity that uses the arts to empower at-risk young people to become leaders. Our lead sponsors are Northbridge Insurance, Scotiabank, TD Bank Groupand the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.