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Free digital and media arts program for youth 11 to 19 years old

One participant from the Sioux Lookout area came to the program and went on to make some amazing video that got shown in Ottawa as part of a festival

There was a steady stream of parents and children attending the official launch of the DGTL Digital Creator North Program Saturday.

The project is run by the Near North Mobile Media Lab out of the Capitol Centre, lower level,  for young people aged 11 to 19.

“Digital Creator is a low-barrier free drop-in place for youth ages 11 to 19. We focus on media art,” explained program director Sharon Switzer.

“Kids can come in and learn to make videos, take pictures, make digital art, work 3-D printing. We have a huge range of equipment. Everything is absolutely free to explore and create with while you’re here.”

Including practicing to be a DJ (disc jockey).

“Today we have demonstrations on light art and photography. We have people taking portraits and playing around with them in photoshop to give them their own creative edge. We always have iPads where kids can play,” Switzer added.

“We have been running this program in other cities since 2017 but we had to close those for COVID. So, this is currently our only open space, but we have a long history of running these programs,” said Switzer.

“And what we found is kids gain confidence, they learn how to become producers instead of just consumers of media, and gain skills that allow them to stay in their own cities as opposed to feeling like they have to go south to learn and be creative. So that is what we hope for and what we've found is actually happening.”

Switzer gave as an example a success story of someone who has gone on to do some exceptional work.

“One participant from north of Sioux Lookout, we had a program in Sioux Lookout, came to the program during the school year and went on to make some amazing video art that got shown in Ottawa as part of a festival. That person went on to university in the arts.”  

 Whenever the program is open there are two mentors in the space to help. One mentor is skilled in audio and video and the other has digital art skills.

“So digital drawing, painting, graphic design,” said Switzer.

The young people get access to equipment they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to experiment with, something they might be able to fall back on given the huge interest in the area by the film industry.

“The skills that we are introducing them to here will absolutely make them employable. Now we are not a formal education program. Kids can come and learn at their own pace but it is the first step. And if they are really excited, they can teach themselves and we can help them learn to whatever level they want, but often it is the first step,” Switzer explained.   

“They get excited, they get access to great equipment. They get familiar with the stuff, and then they can go on and take it at university.”

Given the response, there is a need for a lab like this in communities across the north.  

“Way back in 2013, we did a review of a bunch of communities, an environmental scan of northern Ontario and there was a huge discrepancy between media arts education for young people compared to southern Ontario,” shared Holly Cunningham about the project she helped launch.

“So we started to develop the program and we didn’t have one in North Bay for the first three years we were running it and now we have it.”

The launch gave everyone a chance to learn and play with the equipment, including Araviana Lamothe

“I am hoping to be able to draw more and create music. I have always liked listening to music, so I’ve always wanted to see how I can help produce it. It is very nice here,” Lamothe added.

Amanda Byers was one of many parents to bring their child to the open house.

“This is great, my son is able to interact with all the people here who know the industry and the other kids. It is something I could never provide for him at his home,” Byers shared.

Carson Byers Martin was impressed by what he saw and is eager to learn.

“I just want to learn more about videos and photography. This is cool. I like how you can interact with everyone, if you ask a question, most people here will give you the answer. I like it.”  

An after-school idea, the lab space is open from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday–Thursday.  

The project is funded by both the Canada Council for the Arts through its Digital Strategy Fund, along with the Ontario Trillium Foundation.