By Garrett Simmons
Next month, Family and Community Support Services and the Southern Alberta Art Gallery (SAAG) are collaborating to put on a rural youth photography project called Cultivating Community. This project will feature in-person photography workshops in Taber for youth between the ages of 13-18, gallery openings at the SAAG and a variety of locations around the M.D. of Taber, and an online exhibit featuring rural youth’s art.
Open to M.D. of Taber residents, Cultivating Community represents an exciting opportunity for young people in the area, according to Jamie Lewis, Youth Inclusion Project Co-ordinator for FCSS.
“The programming will include a workshop with an experienced photographer and a workshop focused on how to curate an art gallery exhibit and how to create an artist statement for those photos,” Lewis said. “That is really important, because the goal of this project is to have youth reflect on what community means to them and capture that in their photography.”
Lewis added the project will help young people develop a wide range of tangible skills. “Being able to learn more about how to express yourself through art and then describe that experience is a big part of the skill building that will be happening,” they said. “Once we have the curation workshop done, the photos will be professionally printed and framed and then they will be up in the SAAG in Lethbridge from Feb. 18 to April 24. We will also have the exhibit traveling to different locations within the M.D. of Taber after that.”
Cultivating Community is a pilot project, as Lewis added that the hope is to have similar initiatives rotate through the different municipal districts FCSS serves.
Not only will youth see their work inside a major southern Alberta art gallery, but it will also be accessible for friends and relatives that live in faraway locations.
“They are also going to do an online portion of the exhibit as well, so that will be available to people across the region who are interested in taking a peek,” said Kaitlynn Weaver, Outreach Services Supervisor.
FCSS, through its Kaleidoscope Inclusive Youth Programming, has long heard about the need for a photography-based project, as Lewis added the time was now to move ahead.
“We do seasonal surveys to see what the youth are looking for, and there certainly has been an expression of interest for photography, and we also felt this would be fairly accessible as far as art projects go,” they said.
“What we are going to do is provide each of the youth with a disposable camera, so they’ll be learning about film photography as well, and how that differs from the digital photography we assume they have all grown up with.”
Giving youth the autonomy to create the art they want to see, with a simple tool like a point-and-shoot camera, is a unique way to allow them to capture their experience of living in a small town, according to Lewis.
“There are not always a lot of ways to build your artistic resume in a professional capacity, and to be able to say you were professionally featured in a traveling exhibit is pretty cool and can give youth a big leg up if that’s something they are interested in pursuing in the future,” said Weaver.
Lewis added that program participants will have the opportunity to attend a formal event at the SAAG to celebrate their photographic achievement.
“There is going to be a gallery opening alongside another professional photographer’s work that is being exhibited at the same time, so youth will have the opportunity to attend that event,” they said. “It’s about validating their creative expression and showing how much interest there is and how people care about the things they have to say and their experiences and perspectives of where they live.”
The Town of Taber’s Arts and Culture Department is also onboard, according to Weaver, as the town is helping recruit participants and partnering with FCSS by featuring the artwork in the administration building.
It all adds up to an experience that Lewis said 10 youth in the M.D. will hopefully never forget.
“Through the arts we work on a lot of life skills, self-care and physical and mental wellbeing,” they said. “On top of that, just having a neat, rare experience, the opportunity to do something like this is just fun.”
Youth can register for the project by contacting Lewis at 403-795-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org.