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Youth speak out in favour of Parksville's Young Arts Market

Parksville’s Young Arts Market - and the people who use it - is looking for a new life in a better place. - Lissa Alexander
Parksville’s Young Arts Market - and the people who use it - is looking for a new life in a better place.
— image credit: Lissa Alexander

The Young Arts Market (YAM) was not just a place for young adults to kick up their heels on a Saturday night.

According to those who used it the most, it was an institution for young people to create art, express themselves, learn, and most of all, be loved and accepted. With the recent announcement of its closure, local young adults are concerned about the organization’s fate. And concerned that parents, councillors and citizens of Oceanside don’t realize the YAM’s ultimate worth.

“You always walk away with something you didn’t have before; a point of view, an idea in your head, a new friend,” said Jocelyn Cook about her many experiences at YAM. “You feel you could come back to this place, it’s a home and a haven. A place where you can be yourself without being judged and criticized.”

As she spoke, a friend and fellow “yammer” held her hand for support, a gesture that seemed to be common at the YAM. They had all come to talk about their art centre. Some lounged in the tattered, yet cheerful furniture that sparsely decorated the YAM. Lighthearted laughter filled the cold room while some played foosball and others chatted happily, everyone seemingly oblivious to the drops of water that fell from the ceiling and dripped into buckets around the room.

Although they had some funding to help run the place, YAM organizers struggled to pay the rent. All the various workshops, like writing, permaculture and sexual health, as well as theatre groups, open mic nights, art nights, and dances were all run by volunteers. Some small grants had come from the Regional District of Nanaimo, Building Learning Together and $250 from Parksville’s Grant-in-Aid program, but the biggest support came from individual community members and the landlords, said Mehdi Naïmi, founder.

“I guess the main problem is that the city does not regard the youth issue as a priority,” he said.

Naimi said the city knows there will be a shortage of its younger workforce in the area in 10 years. So in order to retain some of these people, it should be striving to help youth get a sense of belonging to the community, he said.

Like the belonging Alicia Vanin felt when she used the YAM, both personally and professionally. Coming from a home that wasn’t overly open or creative, the YAM helped bring Vanin out of her shell, she said, and overcome phobias like speaking in public and to people in general.

“I was never able to gain the courage in such a warm and loving environment as this place,” she said. “[It’s been] an awakening to my own spirituality because here at the centre, not even the building but the concept behind it, it’s youth driven and filled with youth purpose and creativity. It’s a vehicle to allow people to grow as individuals.”

Vanin is also a member of The Hand, a youth action committee in Oceanside, which held meetings at the YAM with citizens and municipal government.

Alice Prodaniuk said after the last dance held at the YAM attracted a slew of new youth — about 450 all together — the place was simply closed down with few suggestions or commitments to keep it alive.

“I think, sure one thing went wrong, but so what, people aren’t thinking long term,” she said. “If people started thinking long term they’d think okay that was just a mistake, maybe we can help out with the next one if there is a next one, we can get more security, we can do more bag checks, have an age limit, split up the dances… they shouldn’t close this place down just because one thing went off,” she said.

There are programs for seniors and families in the community, but nothing worthwhile for teens, she said. Without a place like the YAM for young adults to create art and express themselves, kids will get bored and turn to partying, she added.

Ashley Jahnke agreed help needs to come from the community and the city.

“I’d like someone to step up and either offer [the YAM] a place, offer a way to solve this and give them a chance to explain,” she said.

Rather than an explanation, acting Mayor of Parksville Chris Burger said he’s looking for some acknowledgement from the organizers that having that many youth in a building without the appropriate safety precautions in place was a serious misjudgment.

“I’m looking for some acknowledgement and some understanding as to how they will prevent these sorts of activities from happening in the future that are inappropriate,” he said.

Burger said council did not shut down the YAM, but became aware of the activities going on there following the last dance and had the obligation to let the landlords know the building isn’t zoned or capable of housing that many people. The real concern council has is safety, he said.

“We think it’s great, we think a youth art market is a fantastic concept, and we would encourage that type of activity no question. It’s just that when you start jamming that many kids into an area that is completely unsafe there is the potential for a tragedy of tremendous proportions and that’s where we become concerned.”

Andy Wynden said she was sad when she heard of the YAM’s closure, because the dances weren’t even a focus of the YAM.

“The YAM offers such a wide variety of things that enriches people’s lives to the youth community,” she said. “I’ll miss the information available here, the workshops, and I’ll also really miss the community here.”

Bradley Mackey said it will continue to live on, with a little help from the community.

“I want this to be a positive thing,” he said. “I want our word and what we are about that’s spreading to result in people who believe in our cause to become a part of it.”

What the YAM needs more than ever is community members to show their support.

The new YAM can be a positive reflection of what this community is capable of creating for their young adults. A new haven where youth feel comfortable and empowered, where they can blossom and grow together.

“This building might disappear but what we are isn’t going anywhere,” said Mackey.

Join the Facebook support and discussion group to keep the YAM operating. Search: YAM as we knew it. Or contact Mehdi at artandplay@gmail.com.

 

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