Nuit Blanche: A Night of Giving

Written by: Vivian Li (Original post on Life@UofT Blog)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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.

Vivian holding a green dress                                                                          YAY FOR GREEN!

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.

A post-card detailing the reasons behind the flash mob and the Colour Wheel Project                           THE POSTCARD WE GAVE OUT DURING NUIT BLANCHE!

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.

Picture of a white mask with beads glued to it         WHAT THE YOUTH ARTISTS AND VOLUNTEERS WORE DURING NUIT BLANCHE! SO                            COLOURFUL! BUT ALSO SCARY!

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!

Picture of the dancers at Yonge Subway Station                                       IT WAS A FROSTY BUT VIBRANT NIGHT!

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.

Facilitation For Leaders Workshop: A Reminder of Identity, Memory, and Goal-setting

Written by: Vivian Li

Now that the first month has passed by, I wanted to revisit my earlier goals for this work-study term. One skill I really wanted to develop was the ability to facilitate workshops and meetings. I have a quiet voice, so I’m always a little afraid that others may not understand what I’m saying. However, after attending the Facilitation for Leaders Workshop, hosted by Student Life’s Clubs & Leadership Development, I feel prepared to speak and host meetings after a little more practice!

Picture of a table with booklets for the facilitation workshop arranged in a circular fashion                                                                                 BOOKLETS!

We covered different facets of good facilitation practices and strategies in the workshop, but I wanted to focus on three important moments.

We started the session with land acknowledgements. One of the co-facilitators, Roy, challenged us to write our own version of the acknowledgement whenever we facilitated a meeting or event. It made sense to me because these words are often read but their reason and meaning become more dissolved and lost with every repetition. However, by relating to and genuinely acknowledging the injustices endured by Indigenous people, land acknowledgments can then become “something we remember and live by.”

Picture of the UC Quad areaNATURE IS BEAUTIFUL, BUT I ALSO WANT TO REMEMBER THE HISTORY OF THIS LAND

Moreover, during the ice-breaker session, we were asked to tell the story behind our names, such as how we received them or their hidden meanings. In terms of my English name, “Vivian,” my mother chose it from a dictionary of names in a dusty green book with pages falling out of it. I think she thought it sounded nice, and I was too young to care much about a name back then. However, my Chinese name was carefully thought of by my late grandmother, and she was the one who wanted to include “Hiu” and “Mun” (Cantonese pronunciation). The former character refers to the dawn, as I was born in the early hours of the morning, and also means “knowledge,” while “Mun” means “multicolored clouds,” as well, the lower half of the character is also related to “understanding” and “learning.” As one of my names is in English and one of them is in Chinese, I’m still trying to understand how to reconcile both names and both identities.

Picture of a sunset  WALKING THROUGH THE SUNSET WAS A BEAUTIFUL MEMORY…

We also talked about different facilitation styles, and I have a whole list that I’d like to go through and try out one day. I think I have a more Directive (or factual) approach but I’d like to try to be more Evaluative and Sharing. However, when we were asked to facilitate a conversation or an activity about a card on the table, I completely blanked. I tend to overthink things, so I started to naturally think about different activities we could do that could begin a discussion about “start[ing] a conversation that matters.” I took a deep breath and tried my best. I asked a question about conversations: “How do you know when you’re in a conversation that doesn’t feel right? For instance, what would you do if you’re having a conversation and it turns out that you’re not in the right head space for it?” I was surprised and relieved by my success at the end of the session, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull it off.

Text of quote: "Be Brave enouh to start conversations that matter."   WE FACILITATED A CONVERSATION BASED ON THIS QUOTE! ?

I had to rush to my next class, so I couldn’t complete the reflection period with everyone, but I’d definitely like to practise my communication skills in the future and discover more workshops about facilitation. I’m looking forward to the session next week on Navigating Group Dynamics!

The Word on The Street: A Reflection on Writing and Community

Written by: Vivian Li

The Word on the Street (WOTS), Toronto’s Book and Magazine Festival, is an annual fall event showcasing authors, publishers, and performers at Harbourfront Centre. This year, the marketplace tents were set up for Sunday September 22, from 10 am to 5 pm. I attended a cool panel and had the honor of tabling (for the first time!) for Augur magazine, a speculative online and print magazine. I originally thought it was going to be a glamorous experience (since people were eager to answer my questions whenever I stopped by booths in other festivals), but I was surprised by how hot it was even underneath the white tents and I became very sleepy. Still, I had a great time and met so many cool people!

During my break, I also attended a discussion session about Empire of the Wild, a novel with elements of the traditional Métis story of the Rogarou, by Cherie Dimaline. I really enjoyed the panel (it was really engaging and I laughed a lot!) and I was especially drawn to one of the points she made. She said that some stories are repeated word for word because they represent one’s history and map one’s culture, but other stories can be told with changes and incorporate other tales to show that one has learned its moral or understood its themes.

Picture of a notebook ONE OF MY FAVORITE NOTEBOOK COVERS WITH MY PEN OF CHOICE!

Showing up to literary events like WOTS made me realize the numerous reasons and ways people decide to put their pen to the page. Sometimes it could be a “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings [with] emotions recollected in tranquility” (Wordsworth) but other times it can begin with an interest in the sound of words. For now, my writing impetus involves facing the darkness and also gives me time to become “friends” (or at least acquaintances) with some of the spiraling thoughts within me.

Toronto is really an amazing space with literary events happening every week, and I’m often overwhelmed with the number of choices. This year, I want to try attending every large event, starting with the International Festival of Authors! I’m also planning to go to events with friends (to make it slightly less scary and to keep me accountable).

Writing can often be an isolating and solitary experience, so it’s always great to get out there and meet people who care so much about sharing and preserving stories! It’s definitely hard to find time to attend literary events, especially with my academic and extracurricular commitments, but I feel re-energized after speaking to people and the energy in the room often sparks my imagination, propelling my desire to write.

Reflecting on the Future: Alternative Reading Week Project Leader Training

Written by: Vivian Li

I really loved my experience with Alternative Reading Week (ARW) last year, so I decided to get more involved with ARW by becoming a project leader. In preparation for the three-day volunteer event in November, I attended an orientation session on Saturday. We talked about equity, privilege, and allyship, as well as how we can help students in our team feel like they belong. The training was very hands-on and it was interesting to see ARW from behind-the-scenes, as well, it also gave me a lot of ideas about how I can approach future event planning initiatives!

Project leader presentation                                                      EQUALITY, EQUITY, AND LIBERATION

One of the most interesting moments of the training was when we got into groups and drew the traits of an ideal project leader. For my team, we thought that listening (represented by large ears) encouragement (we gave our imaginary project leader a thumbs up on her shirt), positivity (a large smile), and juggling multiple things was important for a project leader (we considered drawing multiple arms but decided against it). Some other groups talked about having being caring (a large heart), observant (dark, peering eyes), and prepared (with a fanny pack).

Project leader orientation presentation                                         TRAITS OF GOOD PROJECT LEADERS

We also looked over different projects, wrote down our top three choices, and made a skit based on what we’ll be doing in the future! For example, one of the teams demonstrated the worst situation possible, which left the project leader all alone, while the other team represented the worst and best situations when contacting community partners. Some take-aways for me is that it’s really important to ensure that everyone participating knows what they’ll be doing beforehand, that the students are comfortable with each other, and that (more practically), emailing community partners during the evening will make sure your message comes up first for them the next morning.

Project Leader presentation on next steps                   WHAT ARE YOUR NEXT STEPS WITH COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT?

However, for me, one of the most important moments was when it was time to reflect. We were given small notebooks to write a letter from ourselves in the present to us in the future about what we want to learn by next February, but my letter somehow became one from a far-away future directed towards who I wish to be in February. I’ve always been a sensitive person and I’ve been having trouble handling my emotions, schoolwork, and family relationships recently. I’m also struggling to learn how to care for and love myself unconditionally (even on my worst days). So it was very important for me to talk about the future having a future, and including everything that I love to do in it when I’m in a stable state. I signed it, “Warmest wishes and with LOTS of love, Vivian :).” I hope that by taking little steps like these, I’ll be able to shift something within me.

Sketching the Stories of Planets: Community Action Projects (CAPs) Orientation

Written by: Vivian Li

On September 13, 2019, I attended the Community Action Projects (CAPs) Orientation for Story Planet, an organization that combines literacy, art, and drama to engage children as well as youth in under-resourced schools. CAPs are opportunities for students to volunteer at and learn from non-profit organizations as well as to explore new communities, potential career paths, and to develop communication skills. Although I came in wanting to meet new people and to understand Story Planet’s goals, I ended up leaving with an interesting model, a cool new icebreaker idea, and more insight on reflection!

We started off the orientation with a quick game of “Human Bingo,” a way to get to know each other through statements (ex. “I love Samoyeds”), which were laid out as squares on a 4×5 grid. Afterwards, we discussed what community engaged learning was, talked about the difference between equity and equality, and chatted with a representative from Story Planet.

Two girls reading a book                        READING ABOUT CRAZY ADVENTURES IN STORY PLANET

By the way, if you’re interested in checking out more CAPs opportunities, including the SciHigh program at Mount Sinai Hospital and the City Adult Learning Centre with the Toronto District School Board, you can register on the CCP website (the next session is October 25, 5 – 7 p.m)!

I learned a lot in the two hours, but here are my top three takeaways from the experience:

  • The importance of asset-based community development when interacting with organizations. For instance, challenging us (the outsiders) to view a community in terms of its strengths rather than its weaknesses.
Community Engaged Learning: Preparation, Engagement, and Reflection                                  STEPS TO LEARNING AND ENGAGING WITH COMMUNITIES
  • The Derpy Dog exercise! The goal of the activity was to promote a growth mindset, to push past any innate resistance, and essentially draw a derpy dog in 30 seconds. After we finished, we passed our papers to a student to our left and drew another dog. Then, we passed the papers again and drew a human owner. It was a little stressful as the facilitator started counting down and had a timer! I definitely had trouble drawing the body of my dogs but it was fun to make a narrative for the pets and the owner. I named them Boopy, Choopy, and Jimmy respectively. Unfortunately, I don’t have photos as they’re quite shy!
Powerpoint presentation of Reciprocal Model    CHALLENGING ASSUMPTIONS, WORKING OUT A WIN-WIN SITUATION FOR BOTH PARTIES
  • From the reflection portion, this quote from John Dewey really struck me: “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” It prompted me to reflect on the reason I was taking my courses, as well as to think about why I wish to become a writer and musician. Other questions started to come up: how can what I’m doing right now help get me where I want to go? And what skills do I want to learn from this experience and from my extracurriculars?

My goals this year as a potential volunteer at Story Planet are to become more verbally communicative, practice my artistic abilities, and learn to be more patient. As well, I wish to try facilitating (small!) workshops and engage with drama and playwriting. In essence, I’m really looking forward to my next steps with Story Planet and to future collaborations with the community!

Community Engagement at U of T and Beyond

Written by: Vivian Li

Hi everyone! My name is Vivian and I’m the new Centre of Community Partnerships (CCP) blogger this year. In this post, I’ll be writing about why/ how I got involved with CCP and why I wanted to be a blogger for the centre.

As an English and Philosophy Major, many of my courses are very intriguing but at the same time are mainly theoretical. While I improved in writing essays and conveying my thoughts on paper, I felt that I withheld the same amount of attention to my verbal communication, especially in front of groups. Last year, I really wanted to develop as an orator as well as to connect more to the community. Participating in Alternative Reading Week was a bit scary at first, but I really loved my team and had a lot of fun creating a podcast! It was really inspiring to see the team work together and research, script, and record everything within a few days. After my experience there, I realized I really wanted to be more engaged with CCP and connect to more people who cared about social justice.

When I saw the CCP Blogger and Social Media Assistant work study posting, I felt that I’d be able to develop some skills I already have and also get to know other projects happening in U of T and other communities. I also wanted to challenge myself to write for a different audience, as I’m often writing academic essays or stories and poems. At the same time, I knew that I wanted to build communities in the future and connect to people through art. This summer I was assisting an artist who led a series of workshops on African Vegan Art at a community centre servicing new immigrants and refugees. Over a period of two months, I got to know the people who came regularly to our program, and the room became a safe space for sharing languages and culture, especially music. I’m interested in combining my passion for the arts with community engagement, and I’m looking forward to the orientation for one of the Community Action Projects (CAPs) called Story Planet! Community Action Projects (CAPs) are long-term volunteer opportunities with local non-profit and public sector organizations in the City of Toronto. Story Planet engages youth and children with creativity, art, and literacy in an inclusive environment.

It’s my last year at U of T, and one of my goals this year is to leave behind positive changes. As such, I look forward to learning from other people, improving my writing, and helping people create more spaces that are safe and service others.