On May 5, Hart House hosted the annual Artists in the 6ix Gala, a project organized as a part of Toronto’s Youth Week to display the arduous work and talent of young Toronto-based artists. The gala, which was held over Zoom, provided a space for attendees to speak with artists and event organizers. The artists’ works are on display in a virtual gallery, with each piece accompanied by a short description of the artist and their work. The gallery and its accompanying catalogue will be available until the end of May.

The virtual experience

When I first agreed to attend a virtual art gallery, I admit I did so with a feeling of trepidation. I always felt that art was something we have to experience personally and face-to-face, that online galleries would take away the emotional connection a spectator might feel with a well made piece. 

Nonetheless, I felt intrigued by the opportunity to step into this virtual world of visual art — where emotions are evoked through bright, abstract flourishes and detailed depictions of otherworldly figures. This method of delivery allowed me to attend from home and to dwell on each piece for days, to fully admire what these young artists had the courage to put out there for all the world to see.

Celebrating and supporting youth

The gala began with introductions of the artists. A young queer artist named Jaden Hardee Vardy, who also known as Machine Gun Funk, also read two poems. Danielle Dinunzio, Hart House’s coordinator of access and community engagement, also said a few words about the focus of the program, which included “helping youth explore, develop skills, and build connections.” 

In an interview with The Varsity, Dinunzio said that she was very happy with the turnout. She emphasized the importance of providing youth with a space to express themselves through an artistic medium. She explained that there are many ways that communities and schools can encourage youth artists, such as curating and purchasing art or setting up other similar artistic programs. 

Dinunzio brought up another project hosted by Hart House, the Talking Walls Exhibition, which is an artistic youth project that provides youth with the opportunity to talk about how they’re impacted by the climate crisis. She explained that such events provide artists with opportunities to gain valuable constructive criticism. “It’s okay if it’s not perfect because [the artist] can do it next year, and then there’ll be an improvement,” Dinunzio said. 

The art and the artists 

The gala eventually split up into breakout sessions, where attendees got a chance to meet with the artists face to face. I had a chance to speak with artist Eddie Li and his mother. Eddie is a high school student with autism spectrum disorder, whose pieces are splashes of vibrant acrylic paint colliding and merging with one another to create mesmerizing pieces. His mother described her son’s work as having a “joyful vibe” and praised the community for the support it has demonstrated for his dreams. 

Artist Milo Briggs’ work provides a change of pace, depicting otherworldly figures, while artist Daniel Ekanayake showcased paintings of plants and animals using animated hues. Across the board, I found the artists to be dedicated to and passionate about their work. 

In an interview with The Varsity, Briggs emphasized the importance of supporting youth artists, explaining that spaces for artists to display their work are necessary in a city like Toronto that has a diverse and rich cultural history. 

“Even saying… words of encouragement [is] very powerful, especially to the youth,” Briggs said. Moreover, he stressed the importance of fostering artistic ideals from an early age, which allows children to learn to express their “inner freedom” without fear of judgement.

Briggs also spoke about the limitations of the event’s virtual format. He pointed out barriers to fully appreciating the art as well as for staff to aid the talent in demanding situations. Dinunzio also acknowledged these barriers. 

However, they both also highlighted the positive aspects of a virtual event, such as ease of accessibility and decreased pressure on artists. Next year, Dinunzio hopes to be able to hold the event in a hybrid format, in both virtual and physical settings. 

The clear passion and dedication of both Hart House staff and featured artists definitely shone through during the event. They demonstrated how such programs push youth towards pursuing their artistic endeavours and achieve the support they deserve from the community. I’m glad I got the opportunity to meet some of these amazingly talented artists and I know for certain that I will be attending the next Artists in the 6ix Gala. I hope you will too.