Markham charity aims to teach art and culture through monthly program

A local charity is hoping art might be the magic ingredient to help people understand different cultures.

Across U-hub, the Christian, youth-focused organization headquartered in Markham, has been hosting a program called Crafteria since March, aimed at teaching the city’s youth valuable creative skills, with a multicultural twist.

Each month tackles a specific artistic medium—March was pottery, April was paper cutting, painting in May, and jewellery last month—giving participants a weekly lesson led by an Asian artist.

This month, students will tackle the art of woodworking. In August, “interactive arts” are on the agenda.

Across U-hub Executive Director Nicole Wong says the program is helpful for skill development, but also fostering a greater understanding of cultural identity.

“The main focus is on teaching skills,” she said. These skills will let participants enjoy the process to know more about what’s inside the (art) industry. But the main thing is sharing and helping them to appreciate the differences and uniqueness in each area.

Wong wasn’t just referring to differences across media, but even across cultures.

From Chinese calligraphy to Japanese animations to other East Asian ink and drawing styles, Wong said each culture’s art differs in a way that is unique to its own artists: these differences are often reflections of the cultures themselves.

One example she gave was the wind, which is depicted differently in most Japanese paintings than it is in western works.

Wong defines Asian-style art work as leaning very heavily on detail and layers, each one adding to a piece’s meaning.

Understanding the emotion and story behind the art is part of what she hopes students will take away from Crafteria, as opposed to solely the technical skills.

The diversity of Markham—particularly the growing Asian community—is understood, but Wong said within ethnic communities there is often a challenge in getting youth to understand or appreciate their culture, or to balance their heritage with their Canadian identity.

“Many people—especially the second generation—know very little about their own background,” she said. “They are at the point where they are sometimes very confused about their identities. Should they be very Western? What does Asian culture mean to them? Art is a good way to share so that the younger generation learns something that is not just by their parents’ teaching but as a whole, from the world.”

Crafteria isn’t just about cultural awareness within the Asian community, however. It’s also about sharing these cultures with all Markhamites.

The final step of Crafteria is the Arts and Handmade Bazaar, held September 29 at the Markham Civic Centre, posing an opportunity for the program’s art students to sell their own wares, as well as to showcase the work of ethnic artists from the region.

“What we really want to promote is multicultural artist work to showcase in the community so hopefully more and more people will put in the effort to appreciate artists in our city and province,” Wong said. “They are from different backgrounds and have uniqueness as well as Western culture within (their work.)”

Crafteria takes place Thursdays from 7:30pm to 10:00pm at Across U-hub (232 Hood Rd.) and is targetted towards ages 16-30.  Pre-registration is required at as no drop-ins are allowed. The price is $40 for four workshops.

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