Guided by local artist Amir Akbari, young people living in TCHC’s Mornelle Court community have transformed an otherwise regular outdoor staircase into a vibrant art experience full of life and colour.
Once just another piece of concrete infrastructure, the steps in the 90 Mornelle Court community in Scarborough take young students to and from school. Youth volunteer Sagal has been helping out with planning and getting other young people involved in the mural project. According to Sagal, simply walking down the steps with the painting in progress was really rewarding. "Youth are involved, they have their name on it."
From left to right: TCHC Community Services Coordinator David Morales, mural artist Amir Akbari and some of the project's volunteers.
The design of the artwork represents the community's voice, explained Amir, who is the creative force behind several high-profile murals in Toronto. "I really like to bring the community in," he said. "They also help to protect the piece and take care of it."
A total of 20 young artists helped Amir create the mural during the final two weeks in September. Only five volunteers were on site at one time to comply with COVID-19 safety rules.
TCHC Community Services Coordinator David Morales worked with Amir to organize numerous creative sessions with local youth and community leaders. With David's help, Amir successfully applied for funding through the City of Toronto's StreetARToronto program and secured the go-ahead for the project from Toronto Community Housing.
The community consultation process resulted in a truly unique design. The mural features a waterfall running down the steps, trees and special features such as a blue jay and a paper airplane. The area is normally quite dark, Amir said, "so we wanted something with bright and vibrant colours to make it pop and be vibrant."
"Because our community has been through so much, we're rebuilding. We're trying to change the footprint," said Angela Brackett, one of the community leaders involved in the creative process. The mural "brings out hope," she added, explaining that the location of the staircase had in the past been known as a site where kids would get in trouble.
Angela is the founder of the Mornelle Allstars Coalition, a community group formed after a shooting took place in 2008. At the time, people were hesitant to go outside. "Kids weren't going to school," she said. "We started a group to help people get out there and not be afraid."
To now see young people get involved in the mural project has been heartwarming for Angela. "When we did outreach to the community, it was so great to see that youth had a lot to say. This project feels like a turning point in making everyone come together as one."
"No matter how hard it looks – with a little bit of time and patience you can do it."
Jolianna is one of the young volunteers. "This project has done so much for the youth," she said. "Not only has it taught us how to work together and how to make something beautiful, but it has also taught us that no matter how hard it looks – with a little bit of time and patience you can do it."
Jolianna added that the mural brightens the day for the kids as they're going to school. "They see it and it is a joy for learning and imagination."
Youth volunteer Kwasi also worked on the mural, including on the trees and the airplane. "There is a lot of different stuff to look at, it appeals to the eye. You see it every day. It is just cool to walk on it you know, like 'I built this, we built this,'" he said. "I feel joy in this community."
One of the parents involved in the project is Shanti Chand. For Shanti, the best thing about the project has been seeing young people work together as a team. She believes the artwork itself will have a calming and inspirational effect on the kids, enabling them to “forget about the worries of the world, instead of just strolling up the staircase after school."
As for what's next, Amir has one suggestion. "I often see children walking around without much to do," he said. "They gravitate towards the project, they come check it out. They're interested in what we're doing with the art. We need more opportunities like this for the kids."