In 2015 RE-create worked for nine months on a civic engagement project called “The Sights and Sounds of Where We Belong.” In the process it became clear to staff that there were many barriers that our participating LGBTQ+ youth faced on a daily basis.
In response to this reality, we applied to Hamilton Community Foundation to focus on the stories of our queer youth for a longer period of time. The result was a six-month project called “Growing Up Queer in the Hammer,” which culminated in an exhibition in July 2017.
For the preceding six months we gathered RE-create youth artists who identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community to meet, eat good food together, and start to explore their stories of growing up queer, their personal journeys with gender and sexuality. The youth artists made art about these experiences, and also had the chance to learn from guest artists, professionals who also identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
The participants, reflecting back on the highlights of the experience, mentioned the sense of community that developed through the project, as well as the food they enjoyed at meetings.
The culminating exhibition, which traveled to two different galleries, was an incredible and diverse show of insightful artworks and writing pieces. Many final art pieces were collaborative affairs, dreamt up by multiple artists, and created in community.
The central piece to the show was a large human form, made of chicken wire, colourful fabric, yarn strips and wood. From the top of this piece yarn stretched across the ceiling to connect to art pieces hanging on the gallery walls, each colour representing a different artist. The piece was made to represent the importance of community to the participating artists, and the ways in which they have found refuge and support in the LGBTQ+ community.
Another collaborative aspect of the exhibition were the “Transformason Jars.” These focused on the metaphor of a caterpillar, like one collected by a child in a jar, turning into a beautiful butterfly. Each youth was given a plain mason jar, and asked to turn it into an art piece that reflected their own journey with transition and transformation.
Many youth outside of the RE-create community were also invited to make a jar, through workshops at Living Rock Ministries, Ngen Youth Centre, and through the Catholic Children’s Aid Society. The jars were visually stunning, and reflected a wide variety of experiences.
The final exhibition was shown at 126 James St North as part of June Art Crawl, with great success. It then traveled to the Hamilton Artists Inc for July Art Crawl, where it was seen by hundreds of people.
The participating youth reflected that this project gave them the opportunity to think deeply about their own stories, and then gain confidence in telling those stories through art-making. The experience of completing this project taught us so much about community, advocacy and art-making, and we are looking forward to building on it in future projects.
Meghan Schuurman is the Studio Coordinator for RE-create Outreach Art Studio.