Installation day for new exhibitions at the Gladstone is always exciting. For the install of ‘The Youth Are Revolting’, it was particularly so. On Tuesday, a class of high school students piled into the second floor gallery space and got to work proudly hanging the skateboard decks they designed and created alongside established Toronto artists. The energy was palpable.
The students come from Oasis Skateboard Factory, an innovative TDSB alternative school program where they learn how to run a skateboard business in exchange for high school credit. On top of designing skateboards, students learn everything from branding, business strategy and principles of design to how to professionally communicate in the workplace. The program attracts at-risk youth who are often disengaged from their classes. What we saw, were a group of accomplished teens, enthusiastically and professionally working together to orchestrate a groundbreaking art show.
See it for yourself from March 2-11, and then stop by for the closing party & Silent Auction on Friday, March 11 from 7-10pm to meet all the artists and bid on one-of-a-kind skateboards. Funds raised will go back into enriching OSF’s continued programming.
“I really think it’s important for school not to be make-believe.” – Craig Morrison, founder of OSF.
Craig Morrison and Lauren Hortie
We sat down with the Oasis School Factory’s founder and instructor Craig Morrison to learn more.
How did the Oasis Skateboard Factory begin?
I started the project seven years ago as an extension of the arts and social change program I was running at the time. It was influenced by street art, so we started using skateboards as a natural platform for teaching street art graphics. We quickly discovered it could be a vehicle for so much more, that you can teach an entire curriculum through skateboards.
At OSF, at-risk students come to the program and start succeeding. What contributes to their success?
I really think it’s important for school not to be make-believe. If we do stuff at OSF, it’s because we believe it should be a real project, in the real world. We bring in mentors and professionals to teach the tools and give the necessary support to make professional quality products. This exhibition is a great example of that because we’ve matched every student with an established artist to co-design the skateboard decks.
You can tell the students are proud of their work and they should be. These decks are incredible.
Especially with students who are disengaged with school and haven’t experienced a ton of success before, they’ve had a lot of unfinished projects. What’s really important at our school is that we not only finish projects, they then exist somewhere. The Gladstone is a creative hub in Toronto and this collaboration is a great place for the students to introduce what they’ve worked on.
Is it your goal to connect with the community at large through exhibitions like ‘The Youth Are Revolting?’
Our program is all about building relationships. Being a small alternative school, we don’t have all the resources in the world, but that never holds us back. We ask “who can we partner with?” and then we connect to the broader community. That’s the best thing for these youth to actually have relationships with people and businesses. Especially for students who may have oppositional relationships with authority or adults because now they’re collaborating. I always get the feedback “your students are so professional”. We mark them on professionalism every day, from being on time, being on task, and meeting their daily goal to teamwork and leadership. They learn by doing and are developing creative and entrepreneurial skills. It’s not like every one of these students are going to go out and start a skateboard company but they can take the skills they’ve learned and apply it to anything.
What does it take as an educator to really make an impact?
I run this program with Lauren Hortie, who joined our team in the third year as a part-time teacher, then became a full time teacher as we expanded. We’ve always talked about what it takes to be a good educator. It’s more than being dedicated to your students. You have to be an active citizen who’s engaged in your community. A lot of what Lauren and I do is hustle up community connections and opportunities for these youth. It was Lauren who looped the Gladstone into our fold. These kinds of projects help create the structure that let students reach really great heights.
We also talk about the power of energizing a space when you bring people together to make things. It’s amazing the amount of productivity that can happen when you bring people together with a mission to achieve meaningful results. It’s our responsibility as teachers to harness that energy in the room. In the Youth Are Revolting, we have more artists than student’s collaborating because people really want to be apart of this. This show is a representation of over 70 peoples energy and it demonstrates that we accomplish more together than alone.
The Youth Are Revolting is sponsored by Roarockit Skateboard Company in support of Oasis Skateboard Factory school programming. Learn more about the school on their website and Facebook and be sure to visit the Gladstone Hotel from March 2 to 11 and come to the Closing Party & Silent Auction Friday March 11, 7-10PM.
Interview and installation day photography by Jenny Morris