On May 5, Hart House hosted the annual Artists in the 6ix gala, a project held as part of Toronto Youth Week to showcase the hard work and talent of young Toronto artists. The gala, which took place over Zoom, provided a space for attendees to speak with artists and event organizers. The works of the artists are exhibited in a virtual space Gallery, each piece being accompanied by a brief description of the artist and his work. The gallery and its accompaniment catalog will be available until the end of May.
The virtual experience
When I first agreed to attend a virtual art gallery, I confess that I did so with a sense of foreboding. I always thought that art was something we had to experience personally and face to face, that online galleries would remove the emotional connection a viewer might feel with a well-made work.
Nonetheless, I felt intrigued by the opportunity to step into this virtual world of visual art – where emotions are evoked through bright, abstract flourishes and detailed depictions of otherworldly characters. This method of delivery allowed me to attend from home and linger over each piece for days, fully admiring what these young artists had the courage to present to the world.
Celebrating and supporting youth
The gala started with artist presentations. A young queer artist named Jaden Hardee Vardy, also known as Machine Gun Funk, also read two poems. Danielle Dinunzio, Hart House’s Community Engagement and Access Coordinator, also said a few words about the program’s goal, which included “helping young people explore, develop skills and make connections.”
In an interview with the university, Dinunzio said she was very satisfied with the participation. She stressed the importance of providing young people with a space to express themselves through an artistic medium. She explained that there are many ways for communities and schools to encourage young artists, such as curating and buying artwork or setting up other similar arts programs.
Dinunzio mentioned another project hosted by Hart House, the Talking Walls Exhibition, which is a youth arts project that provides an opportunity for young people to talk about how they are affected by the climate crisis. She explained that such events provide artists with the opportunity to get valuable constructive criticism. “It’s okay if it’s not perfect because [the artist] can do it next year, and then there will be an improvement,” Dinunzio said.
art and artists
The gala eventually split into breakout sessions, where attendees had the chance to meet the artists in person. I had the chance to speak with artist Eddie Li and his mother. Eddie is a high school student with Autism Spectrum Disorder, whose pieces are splatters of vibrant acrylic paint that collide and merge with each other to create mesmerizing pieces. His mother described her son’s work as having a “joyful vibe” and praised the community for the support she has shown for his dreams.
Artist Milo Briggs’ work offers a change of pace, depicting otherworldly characters, while artist Daniel Ekanayake showcased paintings of plants and animals using lively hues. Overall, I found the artists dedicated and passionate about their work.
In an interview with Varsity, Briggs stressed the importance of supporting young artists, explaining that spaces for artists to exhibit their work are needed in a city like Toronto that has a rich and diverse cultural history.
“Even say…words of encouragement [is] very powerful, especially for young people,” Briggs said. Additionally, he emphasized the importance of nurturing artistic ideals from an early age, which allows children to learn to express their “inner freedom” without fear of judgment.
Briggs also spoke about the limitations of the event’s virtual format. He pointed to the barriers to full appreciation of the art as well as the staff assisting talent in demanding situations. Dinunzio also acknowledged these obstacles.
However, they both also highlighted the positive aspects of a virtual event, such as ease of accessibility and less pressure on performers. Next year, Dinunzio hopes to be able to organize the event in a hybrid format, both virtual and physical.
The obvious passion and dedication of the Hart House staff and featured artists clearly shone during the event. They demonstrated how such programs inspire young people to pursue their artistic endeavors and gain the support they deserve from the community. I am happy to have had the opportunity to meet some of these incredibly talented artists and know for sure that I will be attending the next Artists in the 6ix gala. I hope you too.