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DAREarts Vancouver: Youth Creating “Hope Beyond Adversity”

For the last 6 years, DAREarts workshops have been a fixture at Britannia Elementary School in Vancouver.  Grade 7 teacher, Justin Borsato, is a firm believer in the leadership skills and values that DAREarts instills in his students. He acknowledges that the arts are not his forte (hockey is!) and that DAREarts fills that gap. Each year, all the young teens write, act, sing, make movies (see their ‘Hope Beyond Adversity’ on DAREarts YouTube) and dance for their public showcase.  Below is from Mr. Borsato and one student. – ROY MULDER, DAREarts Vancouver Coordinator

“I just wanted to express my gratitude for making sure that the DAREarts program was able to touch the lives of my students in Vancouver this year.

DAREarts is far more than an arts program.  It is a program which dares students to find their voices and express their ideas through a multitude of avenues.  The DAREarts staff has the unique ability to push children out of their comfort zones and into the realm of emotional growth.  Throughout the week, my students were exposed to a wide variety of art forms where they flourished, working both individually and within teams. In the beginning, many found it difficult to express their feelings and work with students who were not close friends.  But, with the help of DAREarts’ amazing staff, the students found their confidence and developed bonds with new peers.

Shelley, Roy, Lori and Tracie are the consummate professionals.  Their diverse skill sets promote a wide variety of learning potential.  They work together as a single unit and build upon each other’s ideas.  They have an uncanny ability to elicit excellence from their subjects, while maintaining a positive learning environment.  I have worked with many artists and arts programs in my 18 years as a classroom teacher, and none of them hold a candle to the professionalism and talent of the DAREarts artists and program.

An example … is reflected in the story of one of my students.  A 12 year old girl with acute anxiety, was “dared” by Lori and Shelley to create a poem expressing the anxiety and fears she battles on a daily basis.  The student went home that night and created a poem (below) outlining the intensity of her disorder.  She was asked if she’d be willing to read her poem on stage.  She quickly said no, that she didn’t have the nerve to be alone on stage, but that she’d be okay if someone else from the class read it.  However, over some time and gentle encouragement, the staff was able to build the young girl’s confidence, and by the end of the week, she felt nervous but was prepared to read her own poem – alone on stage and in front of an auditorium full of guests.  Her performance was the highlight of the night.  She was bold and expressed her feelings clearly and with tremendous expression.  Her anxiety took a back seat that night, and I attribute her conquest to the skills offered by the staff and programming of DAREarts.”  Justin Borsato, Britannia Elementary School Teacher

Anxiety…

It reminds you of all the things you fear.
Giving you reasons to run.
Wishing you could disappear.
Words cutting deeply in your skin releasing forbidden tears.
Knowing there dripping down your cheeks scare you.
It’s one of your fears.
For you remember learning as a child that crying represents weakness.
So you grew up as a ship in a hurricane above a pitch black sea of irrational fears and thoughts.
This ship being thrown each direction until your vision is accompanied by black dots.
For some reason no matter what you do it won’t stop and it wont stop and you don’t know what to do.
Weeks to months you feel as if you’re in a void.
Then you realize your alone and there’s no friend for you.
And you just need a moment to breathe.
There are always an unexpected day.
Where you feel no harm can come.
It feels like it all just went away.
You found your place.
You found your friends.
You found your space.
So in the inside you need to think, just for a moment you’re thinking…
This is not the end.
You can just feel yourself sinking…
We just have to keep believing there’s more good to come.
You see, we all just have to learn to cope.
It’s difficult, trust me I know.
Yet someday I know you’ll once again learn how to have hope.

DAREarts is a children’s charity that empowers at-risk young people to be leaders. DAREarts is grateful to all its supporters including National Supporter: Northbridge Insurance; Lead Supporters: Anne LivingstonBank of America Merrill Lynch, Scotiabank and TD Bank Group; and Vancouver Education Partners Britannia Elementary School, Britannia Secondary School, and Presentation House.

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DAREarts Vancouver: Silenced Voices Sing

Written by DAREarts artist-educator Lori Sherritt-Fleming.

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” James Humes

vancouver-3What 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.

vancouver-2Through 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.

vancouver-1I 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.


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DAREarts Vancouver 2017 Day 5: Britannia Students Stepped Up and Sang Out as They Showcased Their Gifts

Last night, as a finale to their week of creative leadership workshops, the 27 Grade 7 students from Britannia Elementary School DARED to inspire their families and friends to be the change in their community in their public Showcase.
da-day-5iTheir performances, videos, and artist talk-back session with the audience showed their true leadership.  As an example, Hannah, who entered our DAREarts program timidly, stepped up on stage and told the audience how this week’s DAREarts experience helped her find her voice and celebrate her true potential as a leader.

da-day-5hda-day-5bThe Showcase featured numerous solo performances by students, dance routines and videos.  Moreover, many of the students stepped into the Master of Ceremonies role with astoundingly thought-provoking and joyful speeches they had written for this event!

Parents, including the Britannia Elementary School principal, were moved to tears after experiencing the students’ creative and impactful work.

da-day-5gYes, inspired by John Aitken’s ‘The Gift’, these kids surely found their own gift to speak through their actions.  Now they DARE us to listen.

da-day-5fWe would like to thank our amazing DAREarts Vancouver team members, including Shelley MacDonald, Trisha de Luca, Elder Nk’xetko, John Aitken, Brunella Bauttista, Roy Mulder, Karen Myskiw, Lori Sherritt-Fleming, Tracie Stewart, Lori Triolo, Kurt Von Hahn, plus youth mentors Marlo Mason & Amelia Wilson! We would also like to send a special thank you to the students’ great teacher, Justin Borsato, for making this great partnership possible!

Photos courtesy Roy Mulder.


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 and Parker Art Salon. We would like to give special thanks to Presentation House and to Britannia Elementary and Secondary Schools.


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DAREarts Vancouver Day 4: Putting it all together!

vancouverblog-4From January 20th to 26th, the grade 7s at Britannia Elementary School will be working with DAREarts’ team of artist-educators to ignite their inner leadership. Here is a report on the fourth day from Lead Teacher Shelley MacDonald:

DAREarts Vancouver’s 27 Britannia School Delegates dared to be brave today as many of the students signed up to take on leadership roles for tomorrow’s Open Studio Showcase.  Michelle brought in her cello to provide music accompaniment to D’Angelo’s dance solo and found the right tunes to play.  Oliyad is ready to share his monologue about his own personal journey to Canada from Kenya. DAREarts delegates also had their first experience working with a teleprompter in the music studio with musician Kurt Von Hahn. Today was final Recording Day!   Tomorrow music and video will come together with live performance.  Soon it will be Show Time!


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 and Parker Art Salon. We would like to give special thanks to Presentation House and to Britannia Elementary and Secondary Schools.


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DAREarts Vancouver Day 3: Media Arts Mash!

da-day3cFrom January 20th to 26th, the grade 7s at Britannia Elementary School will be working with DAREarts’ team of artist-educators to ignite their inner leadership. Here is a report on the third day from Lead Teacher Shelley MacDonald:

da-day3b-1Today, DAREarts Vancouver delegates started their day in the recording studio with Musician Kurt Von Hahn, Voice coach Lori Sherritt-Flemming, and Film maker Brunella Battista to bring their poignant lyrics to life.  Filmmaker Roy Mulder also worked with students on creating the visuals for their music video.

The DAREarts delegates are stepping up their game as they focus on a putting all the pieces together for their upcoming Open Studio Showcase and community celebration:

Thursday, Jan 26th, 6:30 pm at Britannia Secondary School, 1001 Cotton Drive.  Come see/hear what our youth have to say!

showcasevancouver2017_v5


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 and Parker Art Salon. We would like to give special thanks to Presentation House and to Britannia Elementary and Secondary Schools.


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DAREarts Vancouver Day 2: Finding our Voices

dsc_0084From January 20th to 26th, the grade 7s at Britannia Elementary School will be working with DAREarts’ team of artist-educators to ignite their inner leadership. Here is a report on the second day from Lead Teacher Shelley MacDonald:

“Epic, Incredible, Thankful!” These three words really sum up day 2 for Vancouver DAREarts!

The day opened with Elder Nk’xetko sharing her story of finding her voice again after residential school and teaching the students about the importance of friendship through a Traditional Indigenous Round dance.  dsc_0077

Students then took these experiences and channeled them into the lyrics for their song with Author Lori Sherritt facilitating brilliantly. Tomorrow these creative leadership students head into the recording studio with guest musician Kurt Von Hahn.

“I can’t wait for tomorrow!” The DAREarts delegates said as they put away their paints after an incredible prop making session with Visual Artist Tracie Stewart.


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 and Parker Art Salon. We would like to give special thanks to Presentation House and to Britannia Elementary and Secondary Schools.


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DAREarts Vancouver Day 1: Our Silent Voices Sing Britannia 2017

dar1715The 2017 DAREarts Vancouver program has begun! From January 20th to 26th, the grade 7s at Britannia Elementary School will be working with DAREarts’ team of artist-educators to ignite their inner leadership. Here is a report on the first day from Lead Teacher Shelley MacDonald:

Today 25 students from Britannia Elementary with their teacher Justin Borsato gathered together at Britannia Secondary School to celebrate and explore leadership skills through the arts.  Of these 25 students, 10 went through the DAREarts program last year and Lead Teacher Shelley dared them right away to step up and mentor the new students to the program. “Go where you are needed!  If you see someone that needs some help and encouragement go to them.  We are a team! We are community!”

the-gift-photo-dareThis is a very special group who constantly showed discipline, took action, were responsible, reflective, respectful and demonstrated excellence throughout the entire day.  This was especially noticeable while the students watched Guest Artist John Aitken perform his life story with Lead Teacher Shelley MacDonald.  “The Gift” is the story of John’s life and the challenging experiences he had growing up as one of the only Aboriginal Families on Mayne Island.  John lost both his parents by the time he was 13 and didn’t speak until the age of 18.  The Gift is 45 mins in length and is always followed by a talking circle where audience members ask questions and share comments about the performance.  John shared that of all of the talking circles that he has been in after the performance, the DAREarts Britannia students asked the most questions and offered some really good medicine.  DAREarts student Zane told John, “Thank you for your courage, Thank you for your story.”  DAREarts student Ione, who just started speaking herself for the first time this year wrote “I thought today was really exciting and John is extremely talented.  Thank you for sharing your story!”

dar1712After lunch, Artist-Educator Lori Sherritt-Flemming led the students through some powerful writing and movement exercises exploring moments in their life when they felt voiceless.  This poignant writing that they created will be used as part of the lyrics they will create for their spoken word/song that they will put to music on Tuesday with Guest musician/composer Kurt Von Hahn.  Our Video and Photography mentor Roy Mulder also led the students through a photo/video scavenger hunt where students took photos that represented the DAREarts values and the themes of the Gift.  The students are pumped and excited that they got to explore their leadership skills through so many different art forms on day one.

dar172One of the students wrote:

“DAREarts exceeded my expectations!  I had so much fun and I am really excited for the rest of the week!”

Another wrote:

“Fantastic and Excited!”

Photos courtesy Roy Mulder.


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 and Parker Art Salon. We would like to give special thanks to Presentation House and to Britannia Elementary and Secondary Schools.