When I came to Canada over 6 years ago, a good friend of my wife’s and co-founder of Toronto Loves Kicks asked me to come paint live at a sneaker art competition, doing art on sneakers in a short amount of time, where the audience would choose the winner. Little did I know that this was the spark of a new community art initiative that I have had the honour of doing with diverse youth across many communities in Toronto. After seeing the amazing reaction people had to the sneakers and even winning some of the competitions with pieces like this one of Bob Marley, I decided to start offering custom sneakers for clients.
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I started to get a lot of interesting custom requests from individuals and even corporations and created some designs like the ones below:
One day a young person that I met through an art event invited me to do a workshop with youth doing art on sneakers with group of youth in St. James Town community below.
I quickly realized the immense power that art had for youth and young people to tell their stories, especially youth coming from underprivileged circumstances and facing multiple barriers in their lives. Using sneakers, something that is such a common every day object and a huge part of urban youth culture, became the best tool for creating those spaces and allowing youth to have a creative voice in expressing their identities, stories and hopes in a supportive environment. Since this first workshop, I partnered with my wife and her business dedicated to using art for social change The Social Good to start bringing this program across to as many youth as possible. We have been lucky to collaborate with diverse organizations such as Pathways to Education Canada, Art Starts and Central Neighbourhood House and the Colombian Consulate to deliver workshops across the city.Most recently, I was awarded the Artist in Residence position at Power Plant Gallery as part of the Power Youth Program. I am currently in the beginning of this 3 month residency where I am working with a group of young people from Mount West Dennis neighbourhood in Toronto doing art on shoes which will be used in an an art installation at the Power Plant Gallery this spring. The installation will showcase how contemporary art practice is a powerful tool for personal and community development and for sharing our stories (in this case the stories of the youth) and changing the social stereotypes often accompanying specific neighbourhoods (in this case, their own community). We will use art to tell a story of diversity, resilience, strength and hope.
Our dream is to see this program grow nationally and even internationally eventually leading into a permanent program which creatively engages our young people and gives them a space to share their stories, increase their own creativity, skills and confidence and use art to become leaders and changemakers in their own communities.[/expand]