Urban Arts Group Manifesto Removes Barriers For Youth

By Kim Hughes 9/20/13 | www.samaritanmag.com

Manifesto Festival at Y&D Square 2010 and is of J. Period & Black Thought of the Roots.
Opportunities are very nice to have, especially when it comes to things like ambitious career choices in the arts. But having access to potentially career-boosting resources and networks is a real game-changer. And that’s where Toronto-based urban arts group Manifesto Community Projects comes in.

Founded in 2007, Manifesto “is a grassroots, non-profit organization working to unite, inspire and empower diverse communities of young people through arts & culture,” it states on its website. “We aim to provide a platform and the resources needed to advance the growth of the arts as a tool for positive change on the individual, community and city level.

“Through art exhibitions, dance competitions, workshops, free outdoor concerts, film screenings, networking opportunities, seminars, festivals, a pop-up arts market, and much more, Manifesto creates powerful and engaging experiences, and provides opportunities for young artists to grow.”

Few experiences are more powerful or engaging than Manifesto Festival, happening now through Sept. 22. Now in its seventh year, the volunteer-run Festival offers almost all the above — including performances by L.A. singer Jhené Aiko and hip-hop granddaddies Souls of Mischief — while giving kids from all corners of the GTA access to the events via free shuttles to and from Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square.

“That’s something I am really proud of,” executive director Dwayne Dixon tells Samaritanmag, confirming that Manifesto receives support from all three levels of government plus corporate and philanthropic organizations.

Dixon, himself an arts freak who grew up in Toronto Community Housing, continues: “It’s one thing to showcase the diverse talent that we have, but it’s another thing to go into neighbourhoods and bring kids out. We’re perceived as downtown which is fair enough; our offices are in the downtown core and our Festival happens at Yonge-Dundas Square, but we are still community driven.

“Outreach to [disadvantaged] quadrants of the city where youth may be interested in participating in Manifesto but think it’s out of their realm or they can’t arrange the transportation, we remove that barrier for them.”

Asked how they identify youth who would like to attend Manifesto Festival, Dixon says, “We have good relationships with organizations in those communities. This year, we took a slightly different approach: we are working with youth outreach workers who know their communities and understand the pulse.

“It’s key for us to nurture those relationships so we are not overwhelming any community with what could be perceived as big, bad Manifesto coming in. We want to project the opposite; to work together with those that really need it and know best how to transition Manifesto into these communities. So for Yonge-Dundas Square, we have pickup spots at Scarborough Town Centre, Jane Finch Mall and West-Side Arts Hub.”

Some numbers at this juncture are instructive. According to Manifesto, some 50,000 attendees — mostly youth aged 16 to 20 in keeping with their mandate — will take in the sprawling Festival over four days, which also spotlights homegrown talent drawn from various artistic disciplines.

Dwayne Dixon, executive director, Manifesto Community Projects.
Some 150 volunteers will join “a handful of core staff and contractors,” according to Dixon, to handle “every aspect of the Festival, from stage hands to registration and all across the board.

“So it’s an amazing opportunity for youth to look at what could be a potential career and to network with others,” he says, noting that volunteers are drawn both from the Manifesto rank-and-file and from a general call for volunteers.

“The volunteers put in countless hours,” Dixon adds. “We pride ourselves in putting out a good product that’s entertaining and upholds the standards of all the artists participating in the Festival. And it couldn’t be done without our volunteers and their passion to reach one common goal.”

When the Festival isn’t underway, Manifesto organizes multiple other workshops, professional development programs, visual arts, music exhibitions and the like across Toronto, all designed to give youth opportunities to explore the arts and make connections with those already working in them.

“We have seminars and summits where we bring in industry professionals to engage and teach and inspire emerging artists,” Dixon says. “Those kinds of opportunities are invaluable.”

Campaigns and partnerships executed with Toronto cultural institutions such as the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto International Film Festival, Luminato and Harbourfront Centre, to name four, also complement Manifesto’s robust year-round programming.

“Kids get to network, but mostly they can see themselves in a place they might not have imagined before Manifesto. Self-esteem is a big thing. The platform we give them to perform on and to expose their talents helps their development. Now they see farther than they could see before.”

And the entire planet is in Dixon’s — and Manifesto’s — sightlines. “Manifesto Jamaica is now in its third year and they do a similar format as we do,” he says. “We worked closely with them to get it up and running.

“Manifesto Barbados is newer and still undefined as yet, but I believe that is the future of Manifesto: becoming global and working with different regions not only to activate their arts scenes in a way that’s accessible but to ensure greater opportunities for artists to access those platforms.

“If we can provide an opportunity for an artist from Toronto to perform in Jamaica or Barbados, that will aid in the development of getting art out to a global audience. That’s where we hope to be one day. It all comes down to understanding what’s available.

“Although we are amalgamated as a city and we identify as the GTA, our boroughs are still very, very unique in their identity. In Scarborough, they may have access to the Yonge-Dundas event, for example, but do they know Manifesto is for them?

“Do they feel included in the opportunity to come downtown? That’s what we talk about. If you have a love for hip-hop and urban culture and arts in general, this Festival is for you. And if one of those barriers happens to be travel or transportation, we want to get rid of it.”

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