With nearly half of its population under the age of 16, Regent Park is officially on record as the most youthful neighbourhood in Toronto. For the past year, the Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre’s Youth Sub-Committee has played an important role in shaping the centre’s programming vision, planning events and helping with outreach initiatives. Their big focus this summer has been planning Block-O-Rama, a longstanding community event that features live music, food, games, prizes and more.
Artscape Profiles… The Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre's Youth Sub-Committee
With nearly half of its population under the age of 16, Regent Park is officially on record as the most youthful neighbourhood in Toronto. For the past year, the Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre’s Youth Sub-Committee has played an important role in shaping the centre’s programming vision, planning events and helping with outreach initiatives. Their big focus this summer has been planning Block-O-Rama, a longstanding community event that features live music, food, games, prizes and more. Block-O returns on Sunday, September 23 from 1:00 to 9:00 pm at the Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre (585 Dundas Street East).
We spoke to two key members of the Youth Sub-Committee, visual artist Fathima-Husna Fahmy and musician Steve Harmony, about the plans for this year’s Block-O-Rama, youth culture in Regent Park and giving back to the community that raised them.
It’s less than a month until Block-O-Rama! What are you working on right now?
STEVE: I’m organizing the performances, helping to find the talent and other behind-the-scenes tech stuff. I’ll also be performing myself, so we’ll see how that goes.
FATHIMA: I’m in charge of the market area. We’re looking for a diverse set of local stores and residents who want to sell jewellery, clothing, art, music, etc.
STEVE: We also want to get her to do some art, but she’s chickening out! *laughs*
What makes this year’s Block-O unique?
STEVE: I would say that the theme this year is 'new'. There will be a lot of new faces, new events, a new date and a new location as well.
FATHIMA: It will also be a reunion of people who moved out of Regent Park. We’re inviting people back from all over the city. For an old Regent Park-er like me, it’s a good opportunity to reconnect with old friends and meet new residents of the community.
Why did you want to get involved with the Youth Sub-Committee at the Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre?
FATHIMA: I wanted to be a part of the youth sub-committee to learn more about the neighbourhood. I’ve met a lot of interesting people and feel like I know a lot about the organizations that are contributing to the development of the community.
STEVE: I’m very attached to art. As soon as I heard about the arts and cultural centre, I knew I had to get involved. I wish I’d had a place like this when I was growing up in Regent Park. That would have been so dope. This is a great thing that’s happening and I’m so privileged to be a part of it.
If you were twelve and this centre was opening, what would be the first program you’d want to get involved with?
STEVE: Definitely anything involved in music.
FATHIMA: Regent Park Film Festival’s Youth Media Arts Program, because I like filming but I don’t really have much experience with a video camera or shooting documentaries. I’ve been involved with their programming committee, assessing videos from around the world to be showcased at the annual film festival.
In addition to volunteering with the Youth Sub-Committee, you’ve both had jobs related to the Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre as well. What did you do?
FATHIMA: Last summer, I was an intern at Artscape for the Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre project. A part of my work involved doing community surveys: finding out what kinds of artistic and cultural activities they participate in, what foods they would want to see in the café, and how they feel about the Revitalization.
STEVE: I got a plumbing apprenticeship through the Revitalization, so I actually worked on site at the arts and cultural centre and got to see everything being built. It’s come a long way!
Nearly half the population of Regent Park is under the age of 16. What are the youth like?
STEVE: The kids here are fun and crazy—you want to be around them. They speak truth. If they don’t like something they don’t really sugarcoat it, but if they do like something they’ll tell you. That’s a good thing.
FATHIMA: The youth are very optimistic and they have a lot of hidden talent. When they find mentors who find that talent in them, they’ll go for it. You just have to approach them.
Did you have any mentors when you were growing up?
STEVE: There were a lot of guys who guided me when I was growing up: Kenneth Slater and the Dixon Hall guys, people at the Regent Park South Community Centre like Donnie Williams, Shane Marshall, Lucky Booth...
FATHIMA: I would say that Jason Creed and Alex Vallée from Pathways to Education are my most inspirational mentors because they helped me go to university. My parents didn’t see the point of sending me to university. They thought I could just go to college for a couple of years. Jason talked to my dad and convinced him to send me to university, where I got my BA in Political Science.
Mentors have also broadened my mind about where I live. For example, Jason Creed and Nation Cheong are community activists who know the history of Regent Park and they would show us murals along buildings that I had never noticed before. Knowing the stories behind those artworks really makes you appreciate what Regent Park is about.
You both seem really passionate about giving back to Regent Park. What drives you?
FATHIMA: Giving back to this community is why I wanted to go into teaching, which is cool because I’m starting teachers college this week and I got the Regent Park placement.
STEVE: I guess I’ve always tried to give back in some way. I used to be in lots of kids programs growing up and when I was ready and able I started working with youth myself, running afterschool programs and working summer day camps with the Regent Park South Community Centre. I always wanted to help out.
Do other people that you know from growing up in Regent Park feel the same way?
FATHIMA: People remember the good old times, hanging out at the park or playing at the basketball courts… that kind of stuff. All my friends who moved away from Regent Park want to come back because they have those positive memories.
STEVE: Guys who I grew up with always ask me about what’s happening in the Park. You can tell that they miss it. It’s a place that has an aura about it.
The Youth Sub-Committee invites you to Block-O-Rama, an old school block party, Regent-style on Sunday, September 23 from 1:00 to 9:00 pm in the Courtyard at the Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre (585 Dundas St. East). Food, Games, Local Vendors, Live Performances, Music & More!