Cambridge art show reveals troubled youths' inner thoughts

 Originally posted at The Record | Mon., Sept. 10, 2012 | by:

  Article was updated Apr. 09, 2020

CAMBRIDGE - Art from the inner most lives of high-risk youth fill the walls top to bottom of the Preston Gallery.

The P-Town Art Show includes paintings, photography and sculpture that offer a revealing look into the darkness and the light of these Preston-area youth in transition, who may have otherwise fallen through the cracks.

Paul Field, a youth outreach worker with inREACH, spent three months last fall walking the streets of Cambridge, meeting the youth there who were struggling with homeless, poverty and addictions.

"Our whole point was to find stuff that they wanted to do, and then have them run the program so that it gives them ownership," Field said.

A drop-in art studio was one of their proposals, which then opened in February 2012 for those at the highest risk between the ages of 12 and 21.

Field said it can be challenging to get these young people to express themselves through art as it literally puts their emotions on the wall.

But the studio, open several nights per week at the Allan Reuter Centre - a seniors' recreation centre - offers a safe environment where they can talk and work through any issues, enabling staff to find them the counselling that may be needed.

"I get kids getting kicked out of school for graffiti, and now they're selling their pieces."

Field says they're now they're holding down jobs, staying clean from drugs and teaching youth entering the studio for the first time.

Jade Walsh, 20, says she and her boyfriend had just become clean after years of drug abuse, and were feeling lost when a youth reintegration worker introduced them to Field.

"When you quit doing drugs, you have to relearn how to live life all over again," said Walsh. "When things get hard, you can just go here and you can just be yourself, even if it's just for an hour."

She said her community didn't have something like this before - a place where young people could find new outlets for their emotions.

"Being able to have responsibility, being able to make something happen, and to follow through with it and to actually see the end result . it gave us kids a sense of empowerment."

Her painting glances into a girl's thought bubble, filled with a rolling landscape with two planets hanging in the distance.

"She has an entire universe inside of her head," says Walsh. "You may see the person, but you never know what's going on inside."

"I really do think that if this program didn't come about, a lot of us kids probably would have fell behind and (fallen) through the cracks," she said.

The studio is just one of numerous programs supported by inREACH, which has operated in five neighbourhoods within the tri-city area since September 2009. However project manager Rohan Thompson says the program is operating as though its doors will close in March 2013.

The National Crime Prevention Centre has backed 100 per cent of Thompson's approximate $750,000 annual budget the past three years, which pays for youth workers, substance and mental health clinicians and other overhead. Thompson points out that the annual cost to incarcerate a youth is $130,000.

"There's a lot of energy that goes into starting up these initiatives, and it fills a much-needed gap or void in the community," said Thompson.

"To have it stop would be very disheartening and disappointing."

Thompson said the province has announced a youth opportunities fund, though details on access to funding are still unclear.

"So right now it's kind of a waiting game."

The show runs until Sept. 14. More information on inREACH can be found at