My name is Jessie Goyette, and this summer I am a cultural educator and apprentice with Culture for Kids in the Arts. For me, this marks a return to Culture for Kids (CKA), since my previous high school position as a mentor of the Artasia program in 2011. I was recently browsing the CKA website, and came across a quote that incited a moment of clarity and personal reflection.
“Children remind us to approach the world with more curiosity and more hope, to be empathetic and open to the opinions and experiences of others. Art helps children to express themselves, to explore, dream, learn and even make mistakes”
I was a child when I began my very first summer job. I was only 15 years old when the HWDSB Focus on Youth program connected me to CKA. At the time, the Artasia program was in its early development stages, and similarly, I was in the early development stages of my own life.
I was an insecure young artist, growing up with minimal access to arts education. There were many artistic media that were still a complete mystery to me at the time (and many that admittedly still are). My parents were certainly not artists in the traditional sense, nor did they readily understand my creative inclinations. They were always more interested in teaching me survival skills in the face of childhood poverty, and in ensuring that I would be able to have the life they never had.
Upon meeting the CKA team, I slowly came out of my shell; learning how to express myself, explore, dream, learn and even make some mistakes along the way. I recognized that I had a voice worth hearing, and possessed talents and knowledge worth sharing in my community. I was met with patience and understanding from the people I admired most at CKA. I was given the opportunity to work with children every day, which reminded me of my younger self. I became increasingly aware of the capacity of the communities in which I entered. I was inspired to grow, and to demand space in the world that I occupy. For the first time in my young life, I understood how creating art facilitates lifelong learning and exploration!
In the summer of 2011, CKA asked children to show the world what they wanted to see in their neighbourhoods through various artistic media! It amazed me to see these children express a desire to replace empty parking lots with medical centres, farms, or even intricate water parks! It was a completely alien concept at the time to simply ASK children what we needed to do to make our communities better! The children that I worked with demonstrated wisdom beyond their years, and used their art as a form of meaningful communication. They had the childlike optimism to dream big and bold, an ability that we as teenagers and adults often lose over time.
Throughout the years following my summer with CKA, I realized that I had acquired a newfound sense of confidence and direction. I became the first person in my family to attend, and subsequently graduate from University. As it happened, my studies at University focused on Community Development: a discipline that heavily intersects with the values and practices of CKA. Perhaps I would not have gone in this direction, had I not been introduced to the ideas that guide CKA. Years ago, I never would have suspected that my experience in 2011 with CKA would launch me to start a career working towards creating a sustainable and healthy community in my own backyard. The conclusion that I have come to is that arts education – the CKA program in particular – has changed my life, and has been a driving force in my success!
To my bewilderment, it has been 6 years since my first experience with CKA. It is now 2017, and I am once again collaborating with the CKA / Artasia program. As I write this blog post, I am overjoyed! A new summer is underway, I am stronger than ever and I am exactly the person I always wanted be. I can confidently declare that I am ready to welcome another chapter in my life filled with learning, exploration, and curiosity through Culture for Kids in the Arts!