ArtsCan Circle was inspired by the work of Mike Stevens, a multi-talented harmonica player who, since November 2000, has been traveling to isolated communities in Labrador and Northern Ontario to share his love for music with kids and to help them explore their own musical expression.
Founded in 2002 by Mike Stevens and other artists, ArtsCan Circle now sends teams of volunteer musicians and artists to remote Canadian Indigenous communities to link creative artists with Indigenous youth at risk. The teams conduct hands-on workshops in playing instruments, songwriting, singing, drama and visual arts to build self-esteem amongst Indigenous youth and encourage positive outlets for self-expression through the arts. The organization also collects donations of new and used musical instruments, recording equipment and music instruction materials to set up instrument lending libraries and recording studios in these communities, ensuring youth have access to instruments on an on-going basis.
Mike first became aware of the challenges and struggles of Indigenous youth in remote communities when he met Innu youth in Sheshatshiu, Labrador in 2000. Since that time he began collecting musical instruments to take to remote communities and teaching kids how to play. In 2002, ArtsCan Circle was founded to expand upon Mike's work and started sending teams of musicians and artists to participating Indigenous communities to provide opportunities for youth to learn new skills and explore creative expression.
We currently work regularly in 6 communities: Natuashish and Sheshatshiu in Labrador and Mishkeegogamang, Pikangikum, Wabaseemoong and Fort Hope (Eabametoong) in Ontario and send teams for one week twice per year to each community to continue to build relationships and facilitate creative expression. Through hands-on workshops the children and youth of each participating community write songs, play instruments, write plays, create visual art and practice performance skills.
ArtsCan Circle teams frequently include Indigenous artists bringing traditional crafts and teaching traditional culture and language skills. The ArtsCan team also invites local artists and musicians from the participating community to join the team artists in the workshops so youth can see and learn from artists from their own community. It is our hope to encourage ongoing mentoring of youth by local artists/musicians and provide validation and support for local community artists and musicians.
Youth in these communities have very few opportunities for recreational programs in music and art. ArtsCan works both within the school program and in various settings in the community for after school and evening workshops. The week usually culminates in a talent show/performance for the entire community and local bands and musicians often join in add to the performance.
As we build relationships in each community by returning twice annually we deepen the impact of the program. Communities are providing feedback that they find the program extremely valuable for their youth and many have hired art and/or music teachers for their school as a direct result of seeing the joy and excitement created in the youth from working with the ArtsCan Circle teams. The more reasons and inspiration youth have to come to school the more likely they are to stay in school and continue their education. We hope to inspire youth to possibly pursue careers in the arts if they are so inclined.