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N2M2L helping students gain digital media skills

'They can take part in our digital music set up, they can learn things about photography and video and we also have more formalized workshops that happen a few times a month'
Near North Mobile Media Lab's Digital Creator North Program.

Rooted is all about the people and the places that make us proud to call our community home.    


Giving kids a space to explore their creative media side is what the Near North Mobile Media Lab was hoping to do when it set up the Digital Creator North program.  

Operating out of seven different locations around northern Ontario, with the headquarters in North Bay, the Near North Mobile Media Lab will get to unveil this program locally to the public with an Open House event on Saturday, (November 12th) from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.  

“Digital Creator North has been open, but there hasn’t been an official launch and that’s what is happening on Saturday. We have all the kinks worked out and all the equipment and mentors in place and we have a solid group of kids that come and take part, so we know we are doing it right,” says Executive Co-Director Sharon Switzer.  

“Now we are excited to open it up to the public for our Open House.” 

Located in the lower level of the Capital Centre, the Digital Creator North Program is open for youth ages 11-19.  

“We advertise that we are open for kids to drop in from 3 p.m. - 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We have two artist mentors that staff the program and kids can just sign in and do whatever they want in terms of their own creative projects,” says Switzer.  

“We run workshops where they can get one-on-one help from the mentors as well. They can take part in our digital music set up, they can learn things about photography and video and we also have more formalized workshops that happen a few times a month.” 

Alexander Rondeau is also Executive Co-Director and says their mandate is to provide the tools and the knowledge to work with different software and equipment that media and digital artists require in order to realize their projects in northern Ontario.  

He says, “We know there is limited access for a lot of these things up north and so the media lab looks to build upon that foundation.” 

In 2016, the Media Lab launched six spaces for youth to hang out with full-time on-site staff members who are themselves artists who can teach a variety of media and digital skills to the individuals.  

Rondeau says, “We’ve partnered with area museums and libraries in six communities across northern Ontario including; Sioux Lookout, Sault Ste. Marie, Kenora, Timiskaming Shores, Elliot Lake and Timmins.” 

He says while the programs in those areas are still on pause due to COVID-19, they have seen great success stories come out of these various locations.  

“A recent example of how kids really use the space is at our Sioux Lookout location. There was a group from Sandy Lake, which is a remote fly in First Nation community, and they would have to go into Sioux Lookout to attend high school. One of them got really interested in drag, and they would come to the Digital North Creator program after school and started to make these videos of themselves interviewing themselves out of drag, using different camera angles and editing to sequence the interview to appear as two people instead of one,” says Rondeau.  

“We held a big digital media industry conference in North Bay and a part of that conference allowed this student to showcase their videos and they went on to earn gigs as their drag personas. So, we’re seeing these actual tangible things happening for youth that otherwise wasn’t there before.” 

It’s not the only tangible evidence that the film and digital media industry is one which youth would be wise to gain some skills in.   

“In North Bay we have an organization that is doing such great advocacy work called Creative Industries and they are always pointing towards data research that consistently shows that the creative sector of Ontario contributes more to the GDP than other sectors such as the agriculture, forestry and mining industries combined. So just to see the film industry thrive up north is really telling of that,” says Rondeau.  

Rondeau adds, “We really want the youth to call the shots and have them tell us what they need. For these youth who are media consumers, we want them to also become media producers as well.” 

Switzer says, “One of the things we’ve done in the past is when a student has an idea for a bigger project, we really open up the space to them. While students can’t take the equipment off site, we do have the capabilities for them to be in that space.” 

Switzer says there are a lot of different things students can do in that space.  

“Every kind of group of people that come through seem to be different. What I’m hearing from our program leads is that the kids are loving being on the iPads and working on digital drawings,” she says.  

“They also love the music stations that are set up where they are learning to record and make their own music. That’s really exciting to them. We have a girl who is a recent immigrant from the Ukraine and she comes in everyday just to have a place to hang out and be creative in her own way. We found what was being the most valuable to the kids was just having their own space, their own clubhouse where they can figure out stuff on their own and learn at their own place and feel safe while doing it.” 

Digital Creator North is just one of the projects the Near North Mobile Media Lab is undertaking.  

“We have a lot of programs that we are running right now,” says Switzer. 

“Every two years there's the Ice Follies event which is a large contemporary art event taking place right on frozen Lake Nipissing. This is run by three organizations but we take a large administrative role in that event,” she says.  

There’s also the upcoming North Bay Film Festival which takes place in November and will be running again this year from November 25th to the 27th.  

“This is the seventh year of the Film Festival as we know it now,” says Switzer.  

“There have been a lot of dedicated volunteers over the years to make this happen through various iterations. The Media Lab are officially running it, but we are not running it alone. It takes a lot of people and it’s a very fun event. We’re excited to be back in person this year after a few years of doing it virtually, and we get to celebrate film and bring an amazing list of films to North Bay which otherwise would not come here.” 

Rondeau says, “To have them screen in the Captial Centre is also a great piece to this whole thing. The event itself feels like a love letter to North Bay.” 

If you have a story idea for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at [email protected] 


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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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