Young talents shine with Unity

In 20 years of being involved in the arts in Fort McMurray, the thing I have loved the most is getting to see young people be celebrated for their talents and encouraged to follow their passions.  From judging talent contests to putting on festivals, a big part of my life here has been to expose talent to a broader audience.  So many amazing singers, dancers, actors and artists have gone on to successful careers, many scattering to cultural hotbeds across North America, others staying right here and helping to encourage new generations of creators.

Last night I had the honour of attending a Unity Charity talent showcase at Ecole McTavish Junior High School.  The organizers has asked me to make a short speech as part of the two-hour concert.  Rather than just showing up and speaking, I asked if it would be appropriate for me to do a live painting.  Thankfully, they agreed and I worked on a portrait of Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters and formerly, Nirvana, as an array of young talent took to the stage to play, sing, dance and beatbox.

I should back up and say that our friends from Unity Charity, based in Toronto, have been here many times over the years.  They go into schools and work with students in a number of different disciplines with the goal to "empower youth with the skills needed to succeed in today’s world," wrote Michael Prosserman, AKA BBoy Piecez, UNITY Founder and Executive Director.

"Only three to six years from the time these young people first met UNITY program coordinators and artist educators they are already achieving incredible personal heights in their education and career development."

What I heard and saw last night reminded me how important it is to find ways to expose the broader community to the incredible talent that is growing in our local youth.  These young artists deserve to be encouraged and seen.  There were several performances that blew my mind.

The MI Dance Academy did an amazing routine to an adaptation the song "Hard Knock Life" from the musical Annie (by Jay Z I think....but I'm not sure).  It was absolutely captivating.

There were several performances from beatboxers that were fantastic.  If you ever get a chance to watch Tyler Childs from Westwood Community High School, don't pass it up.  What this young artist is able to do with just his voice is stunning.  My brush danced with the canvas in time with the rhythm he was laying down on the stage.  I absolutely loved it.

Several members of the Unity Charity team performed, but it was the powerful spoken word piece by Faduma Mohamed that resonates with me this morning.  According to her bio on the Unity Charity website, she started writing at the ripe old age of 8 and performing at 13.  She is an ardent advocate for autism, inspired by an autistic brother and his journey.  Faduma is developing a one woman play called "Oughtism" with Watah Theatre.

My deepest thanks to Jessey, Mel and the entire Unity Charity team for inviting me to be a part of this amazing evening.  In my short talk, I shared a few stories of my mid-career discovery of painting and left them with a few key ideas.
Every painting project that I undertake begins as a few pencil marks on the canvas and becomes a colourful mess before turning into a discernible person or animal.  "Trust the process" I say to myself over and over again.  

I promised myself in 2014 that I would commit to painting at least one project a week no matter how busy I got in life.  That was an absolutely immovable pledge to myself that I've stayed true to.  I've worked hard and dedicated thousands of hours to this passion.  I'm slowly getting better. 

Part of my success has been rooted in putting myself out there.  If I listened to the detractors or the negative voices in the world, of which there are several, none of this would have happened.  Instead, I've followed my heart, seized opportunities, challenged myself, and moved forward every day.  I have no idea where this thing is going, only that it is going somewhere.  

I have not been shy with sharing my work, or sharing the work of others.  Sharing has created a community of people from coast to coast, and to some degree around the world, who are interested in my art.  Sharing consistently and honestly has allowed this to happen and created amazing opportunities and connections.

We wrapped everything up by 8 pm and I headed home with my half-finished painting.  I'm going to finish up this post, head out to the studio and do the finishing touched on Mr. Grohl.


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