Blank Slate

ECF Grant Gives Youth Support to Make their Dreams a Reality

Tempo Sabatier grew up scribbling stories and poems in notebooks, and still considers herself a writer at heart. Nowadays, the 2014 Old Scona grad has taken up a more visually artistic hobby.

“When I have a camera, in those beautiful moments, I take pictures of homeless people I interact with, or really nice elderly people,” she says. “I look for faces with lines, and life to them.” She turns those lined faces into illustrations, capturing their creased humanity with her pencil.

Despite her artistic upbringing, Sabatier isn’t anxious to publish or gain exposure for her work. She’s more interested in creating space for other young artists to flourish, something that, as a young artist herself, can be tough.

Last October, Sabatier found herself complaining in a coffee shop with her friend Grayson, a schoolmate and budding photographer. “We were talking about how Edmonton is such a great place for starting up creative ideas – it has a real entrepreneurial spirit – but, as youth artists, we find we are excluded from the community,” she says. They brainstormed an idea to hold an event that would help young artists show their stuff, and network with professionals.

A wonderful idea on its own, but not one easily pulled off by two high school students with no money, no venue, and upcoming final exams. Searching online, they discovered that their idea perfectly embodied a new grant created by Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF).

The Young Edmonton Grants (YEG) program started in 2011 when the John and Barbara Poole family approached the ECF, looking to fund a program that would help bring young people’s creative ideas to life. Since then, the grant has launched 103 projects to the tune of $223,882, with financial support from each of the Jones Eidem, Douglas and Jane Wilson and Eldon and Anne Foote Funds. In June 2014, ECF also announced that they, with the help of the Stollery Charitable Foundation and the Eldon & Anne Foote Fund, will commit $300,000 in matching funds towards the establishment of a new Young Edmonton Grants endowment fund. The exciting part is that the gift matching is 3:1, meaning that for every dollar donated another $3 will be added on top of it.

Alex Draper started as ECF’s Donor Grant Associate shortly after the YEG program began, and says that there are many great groups and foundations promoting youth involvement, “but they only direct funds to an existing youth program, not one that gets youth to come up with it and make it happen on their own.”

The YEG program takes youth involvement so seriously that they’re part of the approval process. Twice a year, a committee of six 13-22 year olds read online applications filled out by applicants under the age of 25. They then go to Draper and the Foundation with their recommendations to decide how many will receive funding, usually settling on about 15 out of 25 entries per deadline, doling out up to $3,000 per entry, depending on funds. Applicants must partner with their school or a registered charity to accept the money, and while Draper and ECF will provide advice, making it happen is up to the youth. “The most important thing, for us, is that’s it’s their own projects, and they bring them to life,” says Draper.

In 2013, the YEG program helped fund several projects including the Alberta School of Business’ Not for Profit Case Competition, and a promotional video for iHuman’s Youth Speak Edmonton, a group of youths who provide their peers a positive, confidential space to discuss mental health and emotional issues. There was a Wake-A-Thon for juvenile diabetes put on by Avalon Junior High School, and the program provided a tablet computer and software to Jasper Place High School to help refine their student-run Global Caf.

“We called it ‘Tabula Rasa’ which is Latin for blank slate … to us it spoke to the fact that as young people, we still have that time to self-invent and self-create.”

Successful ventures all, but in the program’s existence, few events took on a life of their own like Sabatier’s, at the Mercer Warehouse this April. It would be tough to come up with an idea more perfectly suited as a YEG recipient, so Sabatier wasn’t shocked when their idea was accepted. But she quickly realized receiving approval was the easy part. “It was more like, ‘Ok, now we really have to make this happen,'” she says.

The team put invites out to the Edmonton Arts Council, local high schools and all over social media, trying to reach youth and professional artists alike, eventually landing Poet Laureate Mary Pinkoski. With live musicians, spoken word poets, improvisers and visual artists lined up, the two-day event was taking shape. All it needed was a name.

“We called it ‘Tabula Rasa’ which is Latin for blank slate,” says Sabatier. “To us it spoke to the fact that as young people, we still have that time to self-invent and self-create.”

Friday was the main event, held in Mercer’s Vacancy Hall, where over 200 people took in the performances, surrounded by artwork, all by young local artists, many of whom received professional feedback for the first time. The next morning was a workshopluncheon, where artists like Pinkoski gave advice and shared strategies with the young and eager audience.

“It certainly got to a level a lot of the other projects don’t, where it grew beyond the initial proposal she came to us with,” says Draper. “It was great to see.”

Given the response of all involved, and the new Twitter followers gained, Sabatier says she plans on putting it on again next year, even if she doesn’t get grant approval. “Based on the reaction we got from youth, I’d almost feel bad if we didn’t do it,” she says. “For myself, I’m less of an artist, more interested in social entrepreneurship, so I really loved being able to create this event where we helped other people make things happen for themselves. It really was one of the greatest moments of my life.”