Written by: Vivian Li (Original post on Life@UofT Blog)
In the spirit of gratitude and reflection, this week, instead of reviewing a workshop on facilitation strategies, I wanted to share a cool experience I had with Art Starts on Nuit Blanche (October 5, 2019) that culminated in engaging the public with flash mobs to raise awareness for mental health. Art Starts is a non-profit organization committed to offering inclusive and supportive spaces for youth in marginalized communities to self-explore and to create.
This summer (and leading into the fall), I was part of an Art Starts program managed by Julian Carvajal called “The Colour Wheel Project,” which strove to use colourful dresses symbolizing different emotions (for instance, Sorrow had a blue motif in her clothing, while Joy was wreathed in yellow) in a flash mob with other youth artists, volunteers, dancers, and the Samba Squad to raise awareness for mental health.
Part I (August 7 – 27, 2019):
The first part of the project was us youth artists sewing and creating the dresses for the dancers. Actually, I was rather nervous going into these sessions as up until then I’d never touched a sewing machine and I had no idea how to hand-sew either. But I have interests in fashion and I often have ideas about how to design dresses, so I wanted to see if I could learn something from the project.
Our mentors, the wonderful designers Diseiye and Ayodele, were so kind and helped me through the problems I had with the machine, and gave me plenty of advice as to how to make make lines that didn’t snag or catch onto other parts of the fabric. I’m very happy with my results, but I couldn’t have done it without them or the other youth artists.
Part II (August 20- October 5, 2019):
Learning the dance and the first rehearsal! After many hours of hard work in a cold room, it was amazing to see our dresses being tried on for the first time by the dancers! We were told we’d also dance in the flash mob, and we watched the dancers rehearse for the first time.
Part III (October 5, 2019):
Nuit Blanche! The day of the flash mob! We had different structures and the youth artists were engaged in different ways depending on where we went. For City Hall and Scarborough Civic Centre, the volunteers, youth artists, and the Samba Squad were arranged in a rectangular fashion, where the dancers had the space within to express the haunting, moving, and fierce choreography. Then at Bloor-Yonge and Kennedy Station, the dancers had a routine similar to what I saw during the first rehearsal.
What the youth artists had to do during the night was hold onto the dancer’s cellphones and carry around a white bag containing flyers, glowsticks, Gatorade, snacks, and flashlights to light the way for the rest of the group, as well as to engage with the public when the gong sounded. Basically, when after the first few drums, we would mingle with the crowd and pass around glowsticks/ flyers to let people know what we were doing. Then, we would return to our places and shine our flashlights at the dancers (mostly The Queen) until Julian gave the signal and we all started to dance our routine.
It was very loud but thankfully there were extra earplugs provided. It was also hard to see at times as my mask kept falling down and I had to hold it in place with one hand while waving my other hand to keep up with the dance. And I definitely accidentally swallowed a bead at one point, when I hit my hand against the mask and opened my mouth for more air. Thankfully it didn’t get caught in my throat, and I’m glad it wasn’t a fly!
There was so much I learned during this whole experience, one of which was definitely the precision and patience required to sew, as well as realizing that there’s always more to explore and discover. It’s always an honour to be part of projects that engage with communities, and the personal experiences people have when encountering art is a gift I never want to stop giving.