New Project Unites Art and Community
Story by Michael Seguin
Photography Courtesy Vanguard Youth Arts Collective
An artist’s journey is, by nature, often solitary. The patience, determination and focus that honing a craft requires can be, at best, taxing and, at worst, isolating. Which is ironic, considering that creating art is fundamentally altruistic—a method of bringing people together to share emotions and ideas.
That said, nothing can be more invigorating for a young artist than discovering a community of likeminded peers.
The Vanguard Youth Arts Collective is an organization of young artists dedicated to serving emerging creatives in the Windsor-Essex region. Operating under the Arts Council-Windsor & Region umbrella, Vanguard nurtures creative development in a number of ways, including acting as a vital resource for local artists, raising awareness, encouraging collaboration and generating career opportunities.
“Vanguard started in 2015 through a grant that the Arts Council received,” Sophie Hinch, the President of Vanguard, explains. “They recruited a bunch of creative young people working in Windsor. Dancers. Musicians. Artists. Those interested in doing something for this city—giving back. It’s been going strong ever since.”
Located at the ArtSpeak gallery on 1942 Wyandotte Street East, Vanguard hosts a variety of events across the city, hosting exhibitions, volunteering at the biannual Etsy show and organizing Mess Fest—a week-long event celebrating the union between art and community. “Vanguard has this way of connecting the art community’s different elements,” Stephen Drouin, Program Advisor for Vanguard, states. “We want to make sure that we have the ability to give people the right connections. As in, ‘Hey, this service might not be right for you, but try this one.’ We want to be able to ensure that we give our members the best stepping stones we can with the knowledge that we have.”
“We bridge the gaps to bring everyone together,” Kristina Bradt, a General Member of Vanguard, explains. “There’s people promoting their own shows or their own activities. It’s a great place for emerging career artists to have their first or second show. Or, if they need a place to do installation shots, they can book the gallery here. We have stepping stones for all different types of arts. They’ve all come together. It’s great working on exhibitions and programs in the city.”
One such program is Vanguard’s 100 Journals Project. Proposed in 2017, the project encourages participants to document their experiences in sketchbooks. Poetry, prose, drawing, painting—all forms of expression are permitted.
“We started planning this project in 2017, so it’s been a long time coming,” Sophie laughs. “We applied for a grant through the Windsor Endowment For the Arts For Community Infrastructure. We were lucky enough to receive that funding. We wanted to hear this city’s story. We wanted to give people the chance to express themselves and try something new. We wanted it to be super accessible.”
The Vanguard Youth Arts Collective held five sketchbook workshops with five different local organizations: W.E. Trans Support, the YMCA of Windsor and Essex County, Mapping the Way for Newcomer Youth, the Windsor Youth Centre and the Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County. The programs were led by experienced local artists, including Lindsay Whalen and Evangeline John.
In addition, one workshop was hosted by Sophie herself and Samantha Enríquez, the Vice President of Vanguard.
“It was great!” Sophie exclaims. “It was such a great experience. It was with the Multicultural Council’s youth group. They were super welcoming. Most of the participants were new immigrants to Canada from Nepal. It was interesting. For a lot of them, English wasn’t their first language. But art, it turns out, is the universal language.”
“There were some amazing artists in the group,” Samantha states. “You could tell that they were really enjoying it. It was cool to see.”
“Even though we come from different backgrounds—Sam is from Mexico, she was able to connect with someone from Nepal through art,” Sophie states. “They exchanged their favourite songs and artists. It was really cool to see that kind of connection develop.”
After hosting the workshops, Vanguard held an exhibition at their gallery on Wyandotte Street to showcase the artwork.
“Last month we displayed some of the journals here,” Sophie explains. “We created a mural with different photos that we took during each of the workshops, along with a little paragraph about each of the organizations. It was a great way to welcome and recruit new members.”
Perhaps most strong was how the community reacted to the project. “People had a lot of questions,” Samantha recalls. “Which is good, because they were interested in these photographs. ‘Where were these taken?’ ‘What workshop was this?’ ‘Who’s this artist?’ ‘What age group are these kids?’ ‘Have they done art before?’ ‘Are they interested in art now?’”
What’s more, Vanguard also provided blank journals at the exhibition, allowing those interested to actively participate in the artistic event as it unfolded.
“It was great, having people ask us about each individual workshop,” Kristina states. “We also had a station set up. They could come in and see information about what we’ve done so far. All of the workshops that we had participated in. They could look through some of the journals we had to see what people actually created. And they were welcome to expand on them as well.”
And, with the new decade upon us, expansion is at the forefront of Vanguard’s mission.
“We’re always learning,” Stephen explains. “It’s fascinating to learn what else is in the city that we don’t even know about. So that’s even more amazing, when new ideas come forward. You get into an inclusive way of doing things. It’s fascinating seeing how Windsor’s art scene is becoming bigger and better.”
In addition, Vanguard plans to bring more projects beyond Windsor’s borders, taking their events and services into the county. Because for Vanguard, it’s all about forging those connections.
However, the true power of Vanguard is what it provides its members: a life of artistic collaboration rather than isolation.
“Art school is such a collaborative experience,” Sophie states. “You’re there 24/7. You’re surrounded by your peers. You’re always getting critiqued. You’re always getting feedback.”
“Then, you get kicked into the real world and suddenly you’re responsible for making sure this stuff happens,” Kristina explains.
“So it’s nice to have a home base,” Sophie states. “To be part of a group of people that are likeminded.”
“If you ever feel like you’re at the end of your rope with your art, come to Vanguard,” Stephen states. “We’re working miracles here!”