Youth mental health program fundraises to stay afloat

The Spot held an auction on March 29 to raise funds after not receiving a government grant to help with its operating costs this year.

Ash MacDougall sits in a plastic chair, reading sheet music from her lap and practicing the Beatles’ Hey Jude on her flute. Beside her, her friend Avery Muir compliments her progress.

At another table, someone is playing with art supplies. Sounds from an electric guitar and drum set sneak through a separate, closed off room.

Two participants practice their guitar skills at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Two participants practice their guitar skills at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

This is a common scene at The Spot, a drop-in mental health program for youth held at the Pavilion on the Halifax Common. The Spot, partnered with Connections Halifax, is described as a safe space for youth to create and express themselves through music and art.

“Honestly, I love the people here. The people here are so open. Everybody is going to accept you, no matter what,” said Muir. “You’ll never feel left out or outcast here.”

The Spot recently held an auction where it raised approximately $5,500. The fundraiser was held because The Spot did not receive government grant funding, like it has in the past, to help with its operating costs this year.

Michael Nahirnak, a co-ordinator of The Spot, says the money will probably keep The Spot running until summer. He says he doesn’t know why The Spot did not receive a grant this year, but is not pessimistic about it.

The Spot is a free program so participation is accessible to everyone. Nahirnak says this is uncompromising.

“[Youth] can be a time that issues do pop up in terms of mental health,” he said. “I think we have a responsibility to support youth through that.”

The Spot uses the Pavilion for free, but costs to run the program include compensation for program facilitators, art supplies, instruments, instrument repair, equipment upgrades and refreshments.

Art supplies at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
A small bit of art supplies at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Artwork made by participants of The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Artwork made by participants of The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

MacDougall and Muir, both high school students, have been coming to The Spot for several months. Muir says she feels like an outcast at school, but is able to express herself at The Spot.

MacDougall says The Spot is here for “people who don’t necessarily think the same way as the rest of society.”

Nahirnak says The Spot is always looking to grow. For the future, he hopes The Spot can hire a full-time co-ordinator, do more work with outreach and find its own space.

“I think in the far future it would be great for The Spot to have its own home,” he said. “A one-stop shop that youth can come and be creative and have support.”

The fundraising auction showed there is community support for arts and mental health programming, but Nahirnak says it may not be enough.

“People want this kind of stuff,” he said. “However, the city probably needs to step up a little bit to help us with that.”

Nahirnak says The Spot has plans to collaborate with its partner Youth Art Connection and other charities and ask the Halifax Regional Municipality for more support.

In the meantime, Nahirnak and fellow co-ordinator Heather MacDonald, hope to find a more sustainable form of funding. The Spot will not be hosting another auction in the near future.

The Spot runs on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

“Art and music are universal. We promote mental health, but it doesn’t mean you need to have a mental health issue to come,” said Nahirnak. “Everyone is welcome, as long as you’re interested in creating.”

March Break Video Academy gives youths learning opportunity

The Centre for Art Tapes is holding a video workshop over March Break that is centered around giving youths an introduction into filmmaking.

Six youths between the ages of 12 and 17 are spending their March Break getting acquainted with the art of filmmaking – in a program that is the first of its kind in Halifax.

The March Break Video Academy runs from Monday to Friday this week. These teens will spend this time in a small room discussing big ideas and learning fundamental filmmaking skills from two industry professionals.

So far, they have viewed and discussed videos ranging from modern music videos to short films, dissecting every artistic detail to understand them better.

It is the first program of its kind to be held by the Centre for Art Tapes (CFAT). Spearheading the program are Luckas Cardona-Morisset, freelance filmmaker, and Leslie Menagh, arts promoter.

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A discussion taking place at the March Break Video Academy. Photo: Patrick Fulgencio

“There’s a visual language that we assume everybody knows but it’s actually been very carefully constructed over time, it’s been built up,” said Menagh. “So we were kind of working to deconstruct it, take it apart, look at the parts so that we can make those choices on purpose when we make our own film, and look at how deliberate each of those decisions are.”

The next four days will involve workshops on storytelling, prop building, video editing and then a screening on the last day.

“Young people are exposed to media all around them so this is an opportunity for them to learn how it works, how it functions, from the real grassroots to creating their own media,” said Keith McPhail, director of CFAT.

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Keith McPhail in the main office of the Centre for Art Tapes. Photo: Patrick Fulgencio

Not a moment of silence ever loomed over the discussions; the teens gave the facilitators their undivided attention.

“What you end up getting are kids that already are predisposed to thinking about these things. They’re quite thoughtful,” said Cardona-Morisset. “As long as they feel like they’re in a safe space to be creative, once you create that, then it can all come out and they can express themselves.”

Like the Atlantic Film Co-op, CFAT focuses on supporting media artists. The March Break Video Academy, however, focuses specifically on youths. As McPhail describes, it is “an opportunity for us to perhaps make [youth programming] a little more long-term.”

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Participants of the March Break Video Academy watching a short film. Photo: Patrick Fulgencio

“My experience in working with the arts is that it’s an opportunity that when youth – or anybody for that matter – of any age gets the opportunity to express themselves and learn something, it’s a real eye-opening experience,” said McPhail. “And it’s one that is usually a long-lasting impact.”