Review of the urbanNOISE Festival

23 Feb 2006

The location of the first annual urbanNOISE festival was bittersweet. Located in the parking lot of the Albion Centre in Rexdale, the revelers consisted of pre-teen girls with oh-so cute outfits and fresh hair-do’s, filled with the anticipation of seeing either the top Canadian urban artists to perform or to peep the several cute young boys that were performing on the stage. Parents brought their children, and teenagers, wearing matching bright-orange oversized t-shirts, proudly walked around, waiting to show the audience their skills. From beatboxin’ to breakdancing, the mood was festive, and despite the half-dozen police officers that surveyed the area, monitoring the staff as they patted down and checked for weapons at the entrance. Hosted by R&B singer Jully Black, the presence of the police served as a reminder that while great things are happening in Rexdale, the reality that violence could potentially be an unfortunate occurrence still couldn’t dampen the mood on the hot and humid first day of the festival.

UrbanNOISE, the two-day festival that focused on the theme “Hearsay” that took place on June 27 th and the 28 th , was a joint project between Expect Theatre and Arts Etobicoke. An accumulation of art-focused workshops that Expect Theatre founders and the Artistic Directors of urbanNOISE, Laura Mullin and Chris Tolley founded was a labour of love.

Bringing in industry professionals, such as well-known beatboxer Jugular (Nikhil Tumne), graph artist Mediah and singer Lorraine Reid to teach workshops on video production, breakdancing, spoken word, singing / songwriting, ‘areosol art’ (graffiti) and beatboxin’, urban NOISE was not only an event that featured well-known Canadian artists such as Jelleestone, d’bi Young, Motion and Dwayne Morgan, but a chance for workshop participants to show what they had learned. AfroToronto had the opportunity to chat with Laura Mullin about the festival, the Rexdale / Jamestown area, and the talent that they found within the 200 participants of the thirteen-week after-school workshops.

AfroToronto: What inspired the program and the festival?

LM: In 2004 Louise Garfield (Executive Director of Etobicoke Arts) hired us to do a project in this area where they wanted to give youth a chance to voice their issues. So what we did was to bring in a whole bunch of professional artists and brought them in taught workshops to about 200 youth. And we brought in a bunch of different things because we wanted to make sure that if someone wasn’t interested in theatre, maybe they’d be interested in music, video. And we created a show with them, probably with 50 kids were in the show, called “Fill in the Blanks”, an interactive, multi-disciplinary show. It was a huge success, the kids were so excited, and they were like, ‘what’s next?’ And we felt really bad because our funding was for just that one project. We created this need, and then we were leaving, and we heard that that was a huge problem in the community – People would come in and leave. And we said that because there was so much talent here, so many really keen kids, and it is so unique - so many cultures that meshed in a really interesting way, that there needs to be something ongoing. So we created urbanNOISE, making this the hub of the urban arts in Toronto, not just Hip-Hop music, but the art in its root form, using it for social change.

AfroToronto: Are the kids passionate about social change? Are they concerned with the increase in gun violence?

LM: Absolutely. Some of them want an outlet to deal with that issue and some want to deal with issues about boys and their parents and things that every kid deals with. But I think that if you’re from here that you’ve lived a little bit more than people from other areas and there a lot more grown up and their a lot more passionate and they have to work twice as hard to be successful and there is some amazing passion here.

AfroToronto: How did the theme of the festival, “Hearsay” come about?

LM: That came directly from the youth. Monthly, we have advisory committee meetings of mostly youth and community stakeholders, and when we said, what are the issues here? What is something that you think leads to the violence and what is something that is statistically broad enough that we can work with it, and they said, “Hearsay.” It speaks to the rumors, the gossip, half-truths and misunderstandings that they say so often leads to violence. And you can take that theme into many different directions, and they have.

AfroToronto: What is your personal take on interacting with the kids? Does this program help them with choosing a career path?

Absolutely, because now is the time when they’re discovering. You have to figure out in high school these days, early what you want to do. I’ve heard that if you’re from this area, it’s hard to put it on your resume – you get that held against you. So you do as many things as possible to put on your resume. And besides, if someone wants to be a breakdancer or spoken word artist professionally, the fact that you can tap into someone’s ability to write, or to creatively express, or to give them a stage and they feel powerful, makes them more confident in every respect and opens up an opportunity that they might have never known about.

There is one guy that we were working with in the PROPS Project (an eight-month program in which Mullins and Tolley worked directly with high-risk youth) and he is also in the urban NOISE workshops He was in trouble with the police and on the verge of getting kicked out of school. When he was in PROPS, he wrote a spoken-word piece in the film and video workshop for urbanNOISE and he was doing a co-op placement for a theatre company downtown. It opened up a whole new path. The school, North Albion, is a great school for the arts, but in particular, schools usually deal with band, with music classes. This is tapping into the arts that they’re interested in, and that are really popular right now, so it just gets their interest level peaked.

From the indication from the enthusiasm of the participants and the audience at the urbanNOISE festival, it is guaranteed to be an annual event. You can check out their website at: http://www.urbannoise.ca for more information.

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