Throughout the course of the pandemic, it has been hugely important to us that there be minimal interruption to YESS programs. Not just shelter and food access, but also those programs that create spaces where youth can heal from trauma, such as our Interactive Art Program. We talked to Hollis Hunter, Artistic Programming Facilitator, about the impact this program has on youth on their journeys towards healing.
Tell us about yourself and your position as the Artistic Programming Facilitator at YESS.
Hello! My name is Hollis Hunter. I graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spring 2020. My personal practice and research revolve around identity politics: I navigate the challenging and rewarding question of how to visually represent 2SLGBTQ+ identities, communities, bodies, and experiences. As the Artistic Programming Facilitator at YESS, I engage with our youth in daily creative activities and work behind-the-scenes to connect youth artists to broader arts opportunities.
Tell us about the objectives of the art program.
The primary goal of the art program is to be youth-led. I spend most of my time working through “How do I best meet youth requests?” and “How do I approach youth or make myself approachable so that they can make requests?” This is always fun because one youth starting a project always entices more to join. What the youth want to gain from the art program is what it needs to be providing. Every secondary goal, such as a consistent programming schedule, or regularly restocked supplies, is centered around this. You cannot be successful in helping youth without them participating or having their wants and needs met by the program.
What is it about art that makes it a powerful medium for healing?
Art is a tool for building connections. Engaging in arts activities goes beyond “making things” to learning new skills, building relationships, communicating ideas and emotions, and holding mind-body connection. Access to art programming allows youth a new path to connect with support staff, each other, and broader communities and opportunities. The art program provides youth with a medium to cope with difficult life circumstances, earn supplemental income, create archival objects, and participate in meaningful large-scale collaborative projects.
I have kids participate that are currently high, in psychosis, or emotionally coping with crises in their life. They choose to sit down and funnel their energy into a physical action like writing or colouring, and often end up calm and controlled in their ongoing interactions. I get to write contact notes about dreams, passions, relationships, and talents onto youth files full of contact notes listing conflict, abuse, substance use, and authorities; this program gives youth the space to safely be themselves.
What have been any remarkable projects/experiences you’ve had so far in the program?
I am constantly astounded by our youth. Every day I get to learn about their character, experiences, and what they can do. Every time I take out a new medium or project, there are youth that I would never have expected to be interested in art, and the things they make are amazing. My favorite thing is when youth make things that are silly and less serious or focus on playing with materials and trying new things. One youth LOVED rock painting because they got to use the natural shape of the rocks to help decide what they wanted to turn them into. Another youth was getting help to patch their jeans, and I brought out sewing machines so that we could dive deeper into their fashion interests. Sewing art programming happened for nearly a month straight because a lot of youth were really into hand-sewing, machine sewing, and embroidering jeans, hats, bags, and cotton face masks. There is so much value in learning textile and sewing skills, because it helps us protect, embellish, and cherish our clothes.
What is one thing you wish the community knew about YESS youth?
This question puzzled me at first because “community” is a broad term with lots of overlap. Youth who access YESS are part of countless broader social, spiritual, recreational, and school communities. No matter what difficult life circumstances our youth are facing, they bring their unique strengths and qualities with them. It is so important to recognize that we are all going through hardships, and that the best way to heal and grow is to make room for collective care. The more that I can show up and show care for our youth, the more they can show up for themselves and others. This is how we make sure that those of us who are surviving and hurting day-to-day have space to be safe, heal, and grow.
The Interactive Art Program is proudly sponsored by Simons, who have interwoven the effect, power, and vision of art within their own culture since 1840. The Simons family share a deeply held love and affinity for the arts, and feel strongly about helping talented young people access the possibilities to be found while exploring multiple disciplines.
“In these exceptional times it is our hope that the Interactive Arts Program continues to provide youth with an opportunity to engage their creativity, continue their path to hope and healing and celebrate their strength and courage through the visual arts,” says Yvonne Cowan, Director of Store Operations for Simons WEM.
In 2020, The REALTORS® Community Foundation joined Simons as a funder of the Interactive Art Program. Their support empowered us to take the artistic programming facilitator position from part-time to full-time.
“The REALTORS® Community Foundation has proudly supported YESS since 1989 and in 26 of the last 31 years. Their tremendous compassion for youth facing homelessness in the Edmonton Area is evident in their programs and facilities. By meeting youth where they’re at and offering diverse programs, youth of many backgrounds and interests are able to connect to positive paths forward, empowering them to achieve their goals and contribute to a strong, vibrant future for our community.”