We are pleased to introduce one of our newest members, Stephen Wilson, executive director, Graffiti Art Programming Inc.
What does your organization do?
We’re a community
youth art centre. We like to use art in a way that is kind of new – our
approach is copied around the world. We’re using art as a tool to assist young people with many of the issues they face. We use art to support a young
person’s education. The scientific evidence is clear that if you enroll a child
in theatre, music, art and dance, that they score 18 percentage points higher
in subjects like math, science and English than those who have not had the same
opportunity of taking art classes. When we look at the neighbourhoods where we
offer our services, the high school graduation rate is below 50 per cent
compared to 87 per cent for the rest of the city. That’s why we do what we do.
We also do many, many other things. I’d like to highlight the fact we use young
artists to do custom, commercial painting jobs. We are for hire.
What company or
business person most inspires you?
I can easily say that
would be Bob Silver – No.1 because he’s using his experience as a highly
successful businessman to support the efforts of agencies such as ours. He
really is quite influential in guiding the city and province as a whole.
How did you get the
idea for your business or why did you choose to go into this business?
The job I had before
was a dead-end job and I wanted to be involved in social services in some way.
I was always a fan of the graffiti style, so I looked at the issue of illegal
graffiti and the impact it had on the city and people’s viewpoints. It was an
area I could get involved in, working with those young men committing graffiti
crimes and focusing on their skills and abilities rather than on crime. Over
time, I was able to convince a great number of them that they should be
pursuing something in the arts rather than something illegal. If you look
around, the amount of illegal graffiti is a fraction of what it was, say in
2002, when there were probably 200-300 graffiti writers. It’s been dramatically
What’s the most
difficult part of your job?
attitudes towards the young people we serve, who live and go to school in the
North End. Society loves to use the “at risk” label, but in doing so, when
they’re referring to a 14 year old from North Point Douglas, they couldn’t be
using a more negative label. When referring to a 14 year old from St. James or
Charleswood, we don’t refer to them as at risk, we talk about the world’s their
oyster and they have so much potential. Using the at risk label is no good, it
sets up a whole expectation geared to failure.
What’s the most
important issue facing business today?
A skilled workforce.
It doesn’t matter your politics or what side of the fence you live on, if
there are no jobs and the business community isn’t supported through proper
legislation and oversight … what I’m doing here is a
waste of time. We tell these young people there are many opportunities for them
… that’s why we have an employment training program to help Aboriginal artists
get jobs painting and decorating, jobs that pay $25 per hour, instead of them
expecting to go on welfare. They can get a job, be the first in their family to
get a mortgage and break the cycle. We build their self-confidence and
self-esteem, so they no longer believe that the jobs aren’t for them.
Why did you join The
It’s an opportunity
for us to learn more about the business community and to develop stronger
relationships with the business community. By building relationships, we can
engage the business community with the issues faced by the young people we work
with. We can create more awareness. A vast majority of business people don’t
live in the North End. They might drive up and down Main Street, but they never
turn right or left off Main Street. We want people to start learning about
these neighbourhoods … turning left and right. In each of these neighbourhoods,
there are hard-working people who are trying to make a difference. We need to
get rid of the negative stereotypes and the expectation of failure.