Photo: Devin Jones

RU alumnus plays for ‘underserved’ youth

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By Devin Jones

Toronto musicians from The Wooden Sky played a first-annual fundraising event Thursday for a non-profit organization helping kids build creative and artistic confidence.

“We’ve always been fans [of The Wooden Sky] and they were one of our first choices,” said Story Planet program director Joe Lasko. “We reached out to them and they immediately said yes. They were amazing about it.”

Ryerson radio and television arts graduate and The Wooden Sky lead vocalist Gavin Gardiner, along with violinist Edwin Huizinga, played an intimate acoustic set at Story Planet’s first Under The Portal event near Bloor and Dufferin streets.

The show sought to expose “underserved” youth to local arts and culture. Toronto based authors Pasha Malla and Marianne Apostolides were also present to give readings.

“We’re much less concerned with arts and writing instruction and more with getting kids excited with creating and expressing themselves,” Lasko said.

“We’ve found if you can express yourselves confi dently and creatively, everything else falls into place.” While the front of the centre functions as a coffee shop that pays for the space, Story Planet uses extra funds to turn the back room into an intergalactic themed area for kids to work in. The Wooden Sky musicians performed their set near the centre’s portal lit with blue, blinking neon lights.

“I’ve been learning a lot more about [Story Planet] tonight, but they reached out and explained to us what they were about and we said of course we’d come play,” said Gardiner, who helped form the band in 2003 while attending Ryerson.

Inspired by author Dave Eggers’ 826, a creative writing foundation from San Francisco, Story Planet has provided free arts and writing programming for elementary and high school students for fi ve years. The 826 foundation focuses mostly on writing.

Story Planet and 826’s New York branches have even collaborated to produce a children’s tourist guide of New York and Toronto and establish pen pal relationships amongst each other.

“It’s a beautiful concept and there’s something exciting even to me being here, so I can’t imagine how cool this space must be for a 12-year-old,” Gardiner said.

Under The Portal is a new initiative by Story Planet to fi nd funds by hosting events on a regular basis.

As a charity, funding has become one of the chief concerns for Story Planet and its staff. While funding in 2014 was highly successful, Lasko says 2015 has been a struggle.

With Story Planet’s programming tied to their funding and with changing donation mandates, the relationship with donors is a reactive one and Lasko said knowing where the next donation is coming from can be hard to plan future workshops.

“We have a few corporate sponsors, but it’s a longer-term relationship, you’re getting to know each other. It usually starts with smaller amounts which grow over time,” he said.

Lasko is looking to continue these types of events on a monthly or bi-monthly basis with artists like The Wooden Sky, hoping it will gather funds to plan even more workshops for the kids at Story Planet.

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