Bright Thoughts: the Arts Squad

The logo says "The Arts Squad" in colourful letters, with illustrations of the 5 workshop leaders all balanced on the letters together.

“Kids have always needed the arts.”

Bright Thoughts is a project of the Alliance of Canadian Dance Networks, seeking to share the moments of creativity, inspiration, and mutual support that we are seeing from presenters and arts organizations across the country. This interview was originally shared in the ACDN newsletter on June 24, 2020. 

 TO Live, which operates Toronto’s three municipal venues, has created a new, free online series specifically to reach kids and families through the arts: Arts Squad. Here, Director of Producing Lani Milstein talks about what we can expect from the new program, which launched its eighth episode this week.

Tell me about the Arts Squad. How does the project work? What sparked the idea?
The Arts Squad came out of a staff-wide brainstorm session at the beginning of April. We were looking around at all the digital programming that was coming out as a result of being in quarantine and we tried to identify what was missing. It became very clear that parents needed support. So what better support could we offer than to provide an opportunity for kids to fall in love with the performing arts, while also not needing a lot of help from parents to participate?
We designed a program that is centred around five arts disciplines: music, theatre, dance, storytelling, and visual arts- specifically, comic arts. Starting June 16, each week, we will release a batch of five episodes, 10 minutes each, from each one of those 5 disciplines. We’ve gathered an amazing roster of resident artists for each discipline with the help from friends like Prologue Performing Arts and Native Earth. It was important to us that the artists we engaged for this project identified as artists who had experience with children as opposed to arts educators. Kids are having a really hard time during this lockdown. There are a lot of stressors put on them by having no structure, trying to accomplish schoolwork, all while having very few outlets. So we really wanted The Arts Squad to be an opportunity for these kids to let loose and have fun while exploring the performing arts. It shouldn’t feel like school- The Arts Squad is a group of friends coming together to try out different creative things.
What can families expect to see in each episode? Is there one thing you’re particularly exciting about featuring?
Each artist has designed a 10 minute episode that is unique and fun.  Kids will learn how to make music using just their bodies, or random household items. They will see how they can morph themselves into a completely different “character” just by making tiny adjustments to their bodies (like walking around as if they are being pulled by a string attached to their nose.) They’ll get on their feet and dance some really fun hip hop, and also get to create new worlds for themselves using just their imaginations, through storytelling. I’m especially excited about our comic arts squad, where we learn how to make comic characters out of really basic shapes (from a real comic book artist!)
What kind of impact are you hoping to have with this project? 
I’m really hoping that kids fall in love with a type of art, and ask their parents to sign them up for classes or activities. This might be the only exposure to the performing arts for some kids and now more than ever don’t kids need a place where they can go and express themselves? If we introduce that space for them, this could be the beginning of a relationship that lasts a lifetime.
You’re a parent too. How are you feeling about the role arts & culture experiences can play for kids and families during the pandemic? 
I’ve probably said the word “outlet “several times already because I think that is the most important role that the arts can play right now. Kids have always needed the arts. It’s been a safe space, a place where kids can run away and either be themselves or be someone else. At this time unfortunately some kids are trapped at home and that might not be a safe space for them to be in. But if they know that they can go somewhere else, at least in their imagination, then they might not feel so scared. And on a much lighter note, creating just feels good. I’ve had so many impromptu kitchen dance parties during this quarantine because there aren’t a whole lot of ways to let go these days. And that was surprising – I am no dancer, but it just kind of happens. My daughter watches and joins in. We laugh and for a minute we forget that we can’t go play with our friends.