Growing Up with Art

Transforming realities through Art

By Fabricio Sortica

We are people who believe that art develops self-awareness so that people, wherever they are, can articulate and bring about social and economic improvement.

Presenting Kristen Fahrig, Canadian artist, and Henrique Pio, Brazilian cultural producer, from the website Growing Up with Art. This project aims at developing artists in low-income communities and promoting their social growth through the exchange of experience and knowledge. Wave spoke with the duo, who recounted how a chance meeting resulted in a connection between Toronto and Rio de Janeiro.

Kristen Fahrig and Jairzinho

Wave: How did you meet?
Kristen: It was the beautiful music of the Samba that introduced me and Henrique! A few years ago, some musician friends invited me to play with the Batucada Carioca (leader Maninho Costa). I met some great Brazilian people in my neighbourhood and fell in love with the culture. In 2010, I had the good fortune to receive an artist award from the Canada Council and decided to take the opportunity to visit the famous city of Rio de Janeiro.
Henrique: We met in Santa Teresa, at a “jazz circle” where a mutual friend was singing. We were introduced and soon after discovered that we shared the same passion for art. At the time I was writing my final project for the completion of a graduate program in Art at the Candido Mendes University, which aimed at bringing the most diverse art forms to low-income communities.

Wave: How did the idea and partnership come about that shaped the Growing Up with Art project?
Kristen: I told him about MacGregor Park and how I had been working with the community to change that little deserted ‘crack’ park into a safe place through engagement in art projects. We continued our conversations over the next week, imagining how a similar project might work in a community in his city Rio.
Henrique: Her vision of community art was new to me, and the most important thing was the commitment to benefiting all parties involved – the communities as a whole. I changed the direction of my final project to adapt it to the concept of Community Art. I talked to my professors and some artists, explaining the idea. Everyone, without exception, loved it. After many emails and long conversations via Skype, we decided to build a common project, something between Rio and Toronto, Canada and Brazil. That was the beginning of Grow Up with Art.

Henrique Pio

Wave: How does the project work, and which communities participate in it today?
Henrique: The Manguinhos Complex, which includes several communities, is the first place where Grow Up with Art is acting. Here we have the support of the Talent Factory, a soccer school run by Jairzinho, former star player of the 1970 World Cup, in addition to the support of the Manguinhos Park Library and community leaders.Kristen: The number one important aspect in our process is that a project is not imposed on a community from the outside – it must grow from the desires of the people. Through consultation, we learned that before we begin a project in Manguinhos they would like Henrique to bring 5 artists to Toronto to participate in a project at MacGregor Park. What a fantastic way to introduce the two communities and initiate a cultural exchange!
Henrique: The differential of this project is its way of prioritizing the goals, what has to be done. This determination comes from the very community. It is the community that determines what is necessary, what is most important, what awakens the sense of belonging, the pride of the people who live there. The first step now is to select a few artists from the community to travel to Toronto, so they can learn and participate in the work that is already developing in Kristen MacGregor Park. This way they will have the opportunity to meet people from other communities, share experiences and realize that it is possible to achieve transformations through art.
Kristen: Community Art is a recognized art form in Canada, and there are many interesting projects happening in different parts of Toronto. Our dream is to also bring an academic along with the artists to create more conversations with people here on different approaches to community development through art.

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