DAREarts Blog

Discipline, Action, Responsibility, Excellence

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iDAREarts: Our teens take on Photoshop!

iDAREarts is a monthly after-school program for DAREarts Grads and their friends. Each 2-hour workshop focuses on an art form that provides the teens with new skills, connecting our youth with professional artist-educators and inspiring them to continue achieving excellence.

iDAREarts Nov 2015 - Photoshopped PicsiDAREarts Nov 2015 - Photoshopped Pics 2On a chilly Friday night, 12 teens gathered at the Toronto School of Art for an introduction to Digital Art.  Although these teens live in different parts of the city and go to different high schools, DAREarts continues to bond them together.

During our opening circle we met John Bingham, the professional photographer who was our guest artist for the evening. All of the teens shared any past experience with Photoshop and photography, with most saying that while they have interest in both, they don’t have access to professional software and equipment. They were all eager to test out the software they hear about daily, and to see how their own photos could transform into fantastic creations with the right tools. The TSA allowed us to do just that!

The teens partnered up and John took everyone’s portrait.  After the photos were uploaded, he showed the teens a few basic filters to manipulate their portraits.  The next hour was filled with experimentation, collaboration and laughter as the teens discovered the wonderful world of Photoshop. Once they mastered the basics, they were dared to try out different tools on their own to tweak their photos in interesting and unique ways.

As we gathered in a closing circle to thank John and share some reflections, the teens reminded us why these monthly iDAREarts gatherings are so important.  As high school students, they are dealing with so much pressure – academically and socially – and the love of art they found through DAREarts gives them a healthy way to express their feelings, relieve stress and find support from their fellow DAREarts delegates.

iDAREarts reminds them that they have already met high expectations of excellence in the past, and can continue to do so as life throws them new challenges. They have their mantra: “I am DAREarts!”  It reminds them of their inner strength, their leadership and of how they will continue to ignite change in their communities through high school and beyond.

We would like to extend a very special thank you to the Toronto School of Art for making this session possible!
IMAG3407DAREarts is a children’s charity that uses the arts to empower youth at-risk to become leaders. Our lead supporters are Northbridge InsuranceGuy CarpenterScotiabank, and agencies of the government of Ontario: Ontario Arts Council & Ontario Trillium Foundation.


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Rolling Inspiration: The D2As Make Sushi at Windup Bird Café

The sun shone on our wonderful volunteer and DAREarts grad, Hami, as she stood outside the Windup Bird Café, holding a giant DAREarts sign, directing our grads into the café and piquing the curiosity of numerous passersby.

DAREarts Grads Hami & Kayly welcome the D2As into the Windup Bird Café. Photo by Alan Dunlop.

DAREarts Grads Hami & Kayly welcome the D2As into the Windup Bird Café. Photo by Alan Dunlop.

For our first DARE2act event of the new school year, we happily settled into the cozy and welcoming café for a sushi-making workshop with chef, writer and speaker, Sang Kim.  For our DAREarts grads, this was a unique and exciting opportunity.

The D2A program, which runs one Friday a month, teaches practical life skills, builds leadership, and offers fun, artistic and cultural experiences in Toronto for our All-the-Arts program graduates and their friends.

Good memories, great friends! Photo by Alan Dunlop.

Good memories, great friends! Photo by Alan Dunlop.

Our students streamed into the café, chatting animatedly, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.  Our grads go to different high schools, but DAREarts bonds them together.  The session started with Lead Teacher Laura MacKinnon inviting each student to share their name and a favourite DAREarts memory.  A timeline of wonderful experiences emerged, among them the Shakespeare summer camps, break dancing, visits to the AGO and Ripley’s Aquarium.

With this opening circle over, Sang began the workshop by sharing his personal story and reflections on growing up in poverty and stealing food to help feed his family.  Now, as a chef and writer, it is his mission to educate young people about food and raise awareness about the number of children in Toronto who do not know where their next meal is coming from.  It was a powerful way to begin the workshop and our grads were riveted.

Sang Kim of Windup Bird Café shares his story, his passion, and his leadership with the DAREarts grads. Photo by Alan Dunlop.

A fascinating presentation about the history of sushi followed.  The students’ understanding of sushi as “raw” food was turned on its head as Sang revealed that in fact every element of sushi, from the rice to the fish to the nori, has undergone some form of ROT!

With stomachs rumbling and fingers itching to create, the grads were guided through the careful process of creating three different kinds of sushi rolls.  Everyone eagerly went to work, layering rice, fish and vegetables on sheets of seaweed and following a specific method of rolling and slicing the sushi.

Slowly but surely, Sang leads the grads through rolling their own sushi. Photo by Alan Dunlop.

Slowly but surely, Sang leads the grads through rolling their own sushi. Photo by Alan Dunlop.

As the students happily ate their healthy meal, Sang challenged them to a DARE.  He dared them to try all food.  He dared them to learn about culture through food, to expand their palates.  And in true DAREarts fashion, the grads accepted.

Thank you to Sang Kim for your mentorship and inspirational words and to the Windup Bird Café for being amazing hosts!  Our DAREarts youth truly took away food for the body, mind and soul.


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2014 DAREarts Summer Drama Camp

All of life is a stage, and so is Toronto’s High Park.

2014-Summer-Camp-headerDAREarts Lead Teacher Laura MacKinnon gathered the students under the beautiful oak trees and passed a bag with pieces of paper. Each participant drew a line from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” and read it out loud. They went over the plot, the characters, body language and “sculpted” the lines with their bodies.

As other people in High Park played with water pistols, blew giant soap bubbles and picnicked, the DAREarts Drama Campers walked, spoke, posed and created group montages that conveyed what they interpreted from the folio. They explored in depth what the gender bending Jaques says in her soliloquy about the seven stages of life. Two volunteer mentors, Zlata and Ron Huddleton, joined in the revelry.


They talked about gender identity, relationships, and comedy versus tragedy in Shakespeare’s time.

They munched on sandwiches “donuted” by Tim Horton’s and after a quick review of audience etiquette; they entered the world of Canadian Stage’s open air theatre.

The teens were courteously greeted by Canadian Stage front of house staff and conveyed to front row seats where they were able to watch the actors’ fight choreography and drink in the atmosphere of the set.

The performance was kissed with a beautiful night breeze with no rain, and the kids were clearly caught up in the magic of the play.


Lisa Norton, Program Coordinator, sums up her experience with the DAREarts Summer Drama Camp students this way:

“Shakespeare can be intimidating for teens, and that’s why it’s so important for them to see it live on stage. When DAREarts brings kids out to see these live performances, the complex language barriers of Shakespearean prose are suddenly manageable and the content becomes friendly. Being able to join the kids during these events brings me so much joy because when I was in high school Shakespeare’s plays were not taught to me as an approachable, enjoyable body of work. Instead, I was often handed the plays and told to just read them and report on them. I didn’t genuinely enjoy Shakespeare until I encountered his work again as a young adult in university, an opportunity that our kids may not come across on their own (they can’t all become English majors, after all!). These pieces are meant to be seen and heard, interacted with and enjoyed. As I was squished into the middle of the large group of teens during the performance, it was heartwarming to hear them laughing at all the right moments, gasping at others, and just being one-hundred percent engaged. Their morning with DAREarts’ Lead Teacher, Laura MacKinnon, had perfectly prepped them for the show, and they loved every moment of it.”

We asked the Camp participants to give their own reviews of As You Like It, and they responded:

Dante: “I think the music added to the humour of the play. Because I know a lot of the laughing was based around the music. There were a lot of scenes based around the music.”

Austin: “The acting was very good. It was very well done. The choreography was amazing and the jokes were funny.”

Kassandra: “I found As You Like It, performed by CanStage to be funny and witty and it did not lose humour on modern audiences.”

Djordie: “I was really happy to see a Shakespeare play with a strong female lead. I thought Rosalind was a very interesting character and the actress did a very good job of portraying her. And the play was very exciting.”As-You-Like-It-THANK-YOU-cardWe’d like to thank DAREarts Founder Marilyn Field for personally ensuring that this drama camp was made possible.

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Sponsored by SEDI – TD, DARE2act youth, Laura MacKinnon and Andy Dale gathered at the Loblaw’s Cooking School at Maple Leaf Gardens for a lesson in cooking a fun meal.  Some of these kids are going on to college and will be preparing meals for themselves on a tight budget. Some of them are helping out at home, and learning the basics of shopping for nutritional meals will set them up for the future.


They’ve been meeting every month at a special location that engages them in activities ranging from skating to scavenger hunts to theatre and museum visits. This time, it’s culinary arts. They’ve cooked up a mess of chilli, tortillas and cookies and settled down for a chat with Laura and Andy. They’re all from different high schools and this is the only time they have the opportunity to see their DAREarts buddies.


They talk about career choices. They talk about how the arts will always be a part of their lives, whether they choose an arts career or not. They’ll always have a musical instrument. A paintbrush. Words. They’ll be interpreting their world and expressing it through the skills they’ve picked up. Laura is delighted that they’re making this special effort to gather with DAREarts. It’s not about volunteer hours or extra marks. This is about maintaining a meaningful connection they’ve made with DAREarts and each other or the years.


Not too long ago they were grade four kids starting the program for the first time. They had been handpicked by their teachers and principals to be with DAREarts for various reasons. Some of them were painfully shy, some bullied, some came from difficult home situations, and some are new Canadians.  All of them have gone through the DAREarts program and, when it was finished, wanted to keep the peer support going.  Next year, Duncan is going to Ryerson for aerospace engineering. Khylashean is going to Guelph for Veterinary Studies. Last year’s Leadership Award recipient Chance is heading toward film studies and they’re all looking at the future with confidence in themselves.They already volunteer for our fundraisers, showcases, school trips etc. They’ve turned up as spokespersons, inspiring other kids to DARE2act in positive ways. This summer, they are anticipating summer theatre camp. The anticipation of another weeklong workshop of writing, artwork and learning keeps them asking a question:


What’s next?


Thanks go out to our special friends Andy Dale and Loblaws for this wonderful evening of food, learning and companionship.





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DAREarts D2A’s at Ripley’s Aquarium

Aquarium Header web

This year, our Leadership Award Gala theme will be SEA2SEA2SEA. How fitting that these DARE2act youth gathered at the Wripley’s Aquarium in Toronto on February 7th!

D2A’s  are highschool youth who have graduated from our DAREarts program. They choose to gather, to catch up, stay connected and support each other. They are our future leaders, including Garland Xie, a Leadership Award recipient. These teens are being treated to cultural opportunities to which they normally wouldn’t have access, due to personal circumstances that range from travel restrictions, finances and other limiting factors.

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29 DAREdelegates  from all over the GTA were at the Aquarium, learning about the “other world” we don’t think about very often. The awareness of Earth’s ocean environment and the creatures who live there is compounded by information  about pollution, about having a wider sense of responsibility for our oceans and the impact of climate change.

It was a fun and inspiring evening, led by Lead Teacher Laura MacKinnon.

petting zoo

Andy Dale’s energy and generosity continues to keep our little ship afloat. “The goal of our D2A program is to find teaching moments in the midst of fun. The aquarium was an opportunity to provide program members with a fun, interactive experience they may not have otherwise had the opportunity to have. It was a resounding success for the program.”


D2A Aquarium

DAREarts acknowledges the support of: our lead sponsor, Northbridge Insurance, BMO Financial Group, Guy Carpenter, Scotiabank, CIBC Children’s Foundation, HUB International, Noront Resources, Telus Toronto Community Board, TDSB, TD, Ontario Arts Foundation, Ontario Arts Council, Ontario Trillium Foundation, and the Government of Ontario.

Visit www.darearts.com for information on how you can get involved.

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Skating on Warm Ice

DARE2act January 10th Skating Party

– from the desk of Cathy Elliott


It’s Friday night. The Zamboni has just finished turning the white snow into a glistening surface. The arches of lights reflect on the ice, and everyone is waiting. It’s silent. Then a whistle blows. You expect a mad rush of blades flashing, as over a hundred bodies jump onto the ice.
What actually happens is absolutely charming. Everyone sort of shuffled on. In slow motion.Image Kids with walker/gliders, guided by their dads, grandmothers with little ones, and a whole generation of urban new Canadians who are skating for the first time in their lives. Grape vining between them all are a few sure-footed experts, skating circles backwards.
The music starts up, bass pounding and everyone is smiling, grimacing, mouths in an “o” as loss of balance is felt. Speed, light and laughter blend us all together.  The air is tropical compared to a couple of days ago. It’s a balmy 5 out in down town Toronto, at the Nathan Phillips Square rink.

The Simplicity of Fun in Financial Learning

Thanks to the TD Financial Literacy Grant Fund, finance expert Andrew Dale and DAREarts, 17 DAREarts GTA graduates are gathering to learn about managing their financial futures. They discussed savings, credit cards and investment. Andrew used the analogy of a high flying athlete, (hockey players, and football heroes) who makes a lot of money but loses it because of bad choices. The kids were engaged thanks to Andy and Lead Teacher Laura MacKinnon. As they nibbled on pizza, they absorbed the financial wisdom that Andrew had to offer.

Then, it was time for the skate rentals and the courage to hit the ice – for some of them, for the first time.

ImageSome of the DARE2act students skate well, some less so. Kasandra, 17, has come back to the bench. She’s changing from her skates into her boots. I ask her if she feels like she’s still moving.  She’s been skating for an hour now. “No, it feels pretty normal.” She lifts her foot and balances on her other one. “This is only the second time I’ve been on skates. That doesn’t feel normal yet. My cousin taught me a month ago.” She looks out at her friends speeding by, some of them holding each other up. “You take one step. Then another. Then you move like this…like this…” she demonstrates. “Then, you just gotta GO!”

Every year, the DARE2act graduates travel from their own neighbourhoods to meet up, support each other, stay in contact with DAREarts and plan their futures. These kids four or five years ago, were just finding their legs. They were with us then because they were struggling. Distracted. Failing. Socially insecure. Bullied. Now, looking at them, one can see how mature they’ve become. They are our mentors now. One of them, Shamin Mohamid Jr., is on our board of Directors.

As we careen around the rink, feeling more sure, remembering how to skate, one can’t help but think: This is what it feels like. To be scared, to try, to risk and succeed.  Our kids teach us every day.

You put one foot in front of the other. Then, you just gotta go!

Remember your first time on skates? Drop us a line with your story.

If you’d like to donate to DAREarts, just hit the button on the sidebar. Any little bit helps. Because no child should ever feel hopeless.

DAREarts acknowledges the support of: our lead sponsor, Northbridge Insurance, BMO Financial Group, Guy Carpenter, Scotiabank, CIBC Children’s Foundation, HUB International, Noront Resources, Telus Toronto Community Board, TDSB, TD, Ontario Arts Foundation, Ontario Arts Council, Ontario Trillium Foundation, and the Government of Ontario.

Visit www.darearts.com for information on how you can get involved.