Adolescence is a challenging time for youth, particularly for those coming to terms with their sexual orientation and gender identity. They are often at higher risk for self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse and lower self-esteem, when compared to heterosexual peers.
Camp fYrefly, which stands for "fostering Youth resiliency education fun leadership yeah!", provides sexual minority and gender variant youth opportunities to develop resilience and leadership skills, so they may promote positive social change in their schools, families and communities.
The camp is guided by an arts-based educational philosophy, using drama, music, writing and visual art to engage youth ages 14 to 24. "Art is an excellent way for them to express the challenges and struggles they experience as queer youth," says Russell Mitchell-Walker, co-chair of Camp fYrefly Regina. "It creates an opportunity for expression in ways that may otherwise not come out, and it helps them to come to a deeper understanding of who they are."
Camp fYrefly is the largest and longest running program of its kind in Canada. Each year, more than 50 youth from across Saskatchewan, including many from rural and remote locations, participate in four days of arts-based workshops and information sessions on topics such as bullying, empowerment and consciousness-raising.
The camp, which is almost wholly subsidized by fundraising, alternates between Regina and Saskatoon. In 2014, it was held outside Regina. An ArtsSmarts After Hours grant enabled the camp to bring in J Mase III, a black/trans/queer slam poet from New York, as artist-in residence. Local playwright Kelley Jo Burke and spoken word artist Shayna Stock offered art-based workshops.
J Mase gave the keynote address and conducted daily workshops for campers in "finding their voice" and telling their story through rhythm and poetry. Mitchell-Walker says, "A lot of experiential engagement happened in the workshops, and there were some really powerful poetry and expression created and shared as part of the talent night."
One camper wrote, "J Mase's privilege workshop really helped me conceptualize my own privilege and understand how power, privilege and intersectionality affect our social realities."
"We witness the youth coming into their own, coming out of their shells, being more confident and expressive. I don't think we would see the same kind of transformation in the youth without the artist-in-residence component of the program," Mitchell-Walker notes.
ArtsSmarts Saskatchewan is supported by the Saskatchewan Arts Board, SaskCulture Inc. with funding from the Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation, and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. ArtsSmarts Saskatchewan belongs to a national network of ArtsSmarts programs.
Top: Spoken word artist Shayna Stock leads campers in writing for personal development.
Middle: Artist-in-Residence J Mase helps participants express their experiences through poetry.
Front page and bottom: Camp fYrefly participants say goodbye at the end of camp.
Photos courtesy of Camp fYrefly.