Legendary dancer and choreographer Martha Graham once said, “There is only one of you in all time; this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost.”
This idea of giving voice to unique individuality is at the heart of Paperhouse Outreach Collective’s Zine Production and Exchange (ZIPE) program. The Toronto-based experimental arts studio started the program in 2016 with the aim to get youth from LGBTQIA2S, People of Colour (POC) and disabled communities producing zines – small, handcrafted magazines of original work – that help them express their perspectives and issues, voices that lack proper representation in mainstream works.
“Our goal was to have an exchange in dialogue surrounding marginalized community issues, and using zines and artist’s books as the medium to deliver a personal and powerful narrative as a means to ignite social change,” said Flora Shum, Co-Director of Paperhouse Studio and Paperhouse Outreach Collective. “We identified a gap in access to education, resources, and opportunities to amplify individual voices from marginalized youth… We dreamt up of a project that would be offered to LGBTQIA2S, POC and disabled-identified youth, led by artists from these communities who could share their stories, experiences, and creative practice.”
The process of organizing a youth program such as this is challenging, even in the program’s sophomore year; Paperhouse’s volunteer network provided support for web/graphics and administrative tasks, while their partnership with SKETCH, Toronto Art Book Fair and Koffler Gallery helped with outreach, promotions and donations of art supplies. To fund attendee-specific expenses such as materials, snacks and transportation, Community One’s Rainbow Grants program stepped in.
Paperhouse applied for and received a 2017 General Rainbow Grant to cover the facilitation costs. General Rainbow Grants are open to individuals and groups that are not registered charities but propose projects that have a positive impact on the LGBTTIQQ2S communities of the GTA. For decades this system of non-profit funding has helped organizations execute projects that helped them elevate to registered charity status. Past recipients include such notable institutions as Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives.
ZIPE was a success, with youth aged 13-29 telling creative and captivating personal stories through zines, and becoming self-sufficient storytellers and artists. Learning the process is an invaluable lesson that Shum sees proliferate through these youth communities, an example being the November 2017 Make Change Conference.
“We had the opportunity for ZIPE youth to lead a workshop on zine making,” she said. “ At least half of our youth show up for this event, taught others how to make a zine, and shared their stories about their ZIPE experience and what projects they made then, after, and upcoming.
“ZIPE youth continue to keep making art, telling their stories and showing up to community spaces to share their personal narratives and teach others how they can be involved too. There is power in storytelling and zine making which has encouraged youth to take a leadership role to inspire their peers.”
Executing a program such as this also gave Shum and Paperhouse the chance to further their skills in organizing and facilitating projects, and helped increase their visibility in the community.
“ZIPE has helped me improved my professional skills in designing, developing, and executing community-based programming,” said Shum. “It has also personally helped me connect with many like-minded folks and community organizations working on similar mandates. It has helped me grow my network and expand my vision as an artist and cultural producer.”
Paperhouse is already making preparations for ZIPE 2018, in addition to another project launching in August 2018; XYZ: Zines from Analogue to Digital is a four-month zine, artist book and digital residency at Cedarbrae Library in Scarborough, and will engage a youth council to help design a program bringing issues affecting these communities to the forefront, and encourage advocacy through creativity, leadership and empowerment. Produced in partnership with Toronto Art Book Fair, Koffler Centre for the Arts and Facing History and Ourselves, the program is open to educators and youth aged 13-29 who identify or ally with LGBTQ+, disabled or Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities.