Earlier in September, Toronto Public Library partnered with the Toronto Arts Council to launch the Artists in the Library program which celebrates the love of art in neighbourhoods outside of the downtown core.
Latoya Joy Lapps, a musician, composer and arts educator was one of the Artists in the Library. Joy taught people of all ages how to play in a steel band at the Downsview Branch leading up to an energetic performance in December!
I got the opportunity to chat with her to hear about her artist residency experience:
What interested you about the Artists in the Library residency?
One of my mentors forwarded me an email from the Toronto Arts Council in which they announced a few new granting programs. I decided to apply to the Artists in the Library program because it allowed me to engage the community by offering free lessons and workshops as well as provide performance opportunities for other professional artists.
What was it like teaching people how to play steel pan in the library?
I loved teaching people how to play steel pan in the library. It was a really enriching experience for me. Community arts is such an interesting field, no matter the artistic discipline. Especially with the way the program was organized, as the teacher, I never really knew who I would be getting in my class. When I would teach at summer camp, I would typically get an entire file about each participant. I’ve dealt with children and youth with different disabilities, personality disorders, allergies…you name it. And then as a teacher I get to adjust and find ways for each participant to feel included. But at the library I had no idea who I was dealing with. The registration required a name and a phone number at best.
In situations like this, you have a bunch of people who you don’t know anything about. You don’t know where they come from, what their life experience is, what they may be struggling with, if they were able to eat that morning, what their family life is like... and all of these things affect us as humans. They affect how we interact and communicate with people especially strangers. I love working with people and I like to be challenged. I love to make people feel included and feel like they are a part of something.
What were your favourite moments during the Artists in the Library residency?
I had a lot of amazing moments at the library during my residency. One of my favourite moments was seeing how the music in the library drew people in. Almost every time I taught a lesson, patrons in the library were drawn to the story room where I was teaching. I always loved to see how the children and toddlers enjoyed the music.
The story room was right beside the children's book area in the library. Toddlers would run away from their parents towards my programming room because they loved the music. Or I would see parents holding their children as they peered through the window of the room. I always had an "open door" policy for lessons and rehearsals. As long as patrons weren't disruptive, they were allowed to come in and watch what we were doing.
In the morning before our final performance I was rehearsing with the string quartet and the percussionist. There were two older men looking through the window so I told my husband to let them know they could come in and listen. They stayed for a while and listened with such joy and appreciation. Eventually they decided to make a party out of it and went to Pizza Pizza and ordered a large party pizza for everyone. The pizza was large enough to share with the musicians, the youth that were helping to set up and a few other random visitors who came to observe the rehearsal.
I was most proud of the youth and their level of engagement. They committed to attending classes twice each week. I was able to award them volunteer hours for assisting me in facilitating the family classes. They also helped with almost every aspect of each performance including setup, tear down, preparing refreshments and cleaning up at each performance. They also assisted musicians and décor specialist with moving their equipment in and out of the library. One of the challenging parts of my residency was setting up and tearing down all of the instruments used for the classes. This had to be done twice each week. Depending on the time of day I had to do it alone, which took about an hour each time. But when they were at the library on Friday afternoons, they would help me set up for my Saturday morning classes. It was also great to see their friendships flourish as they spent more time together. In my family class, it was so beautiful to see how the moms especially connected with their children and with the other parents in the class. I also had a few couples in my adult class as well as a mother/daughter duo. Overall, I was able to watch in amazement as relationships were strengthened through music.
What is your advice for people who want to learn how to play steel pan?
People who are interested in learning steel pan can contact some of the local steelbands. AfroPan, Pan Fantasy and Souls of Street Orchestra are some of the local bands that offer lessons throughout the year. Many of the TDSB schools also offer steel pan as a part of the curriculum and through afterschool programs. I always encourage parents to check the local schools and community organizations to see what arts programs they can access for their children and for themselves.
If people missed seeing you at Downsview, when is your next performance, program or event?
I'll be performing a free concert on February 8, 2015 at 4:00 pm. It takes place at St. Philips Anglican Church - 31 Saint Phillips Rd, Toronto, ON M9P 2N7.
I'll be performing with my jazz quartet. People can also visit my website at www.joylapps.com to find out more about this concert and other future events.
Thank you Joy for the interview and for the wonderful program at Downsview Library earlier this year!
Joy Lapps has performed at festivals including Toronto's Afrofest, Muhtadi’s International Drumming Festival, and Antigua’s Moods of Pan Festival. Her primary instrument is the soprano steel pan. Joy has released four recordings and the self-titled EP Joy (2013). She has been nominated for a Harry Jerome Arts and Media Award and the Caribbean Music and Entertainment Award. Joy is founder of Steel Pan Experience, offering workshops and presentations to schools and communities across Toronto.
The Artists in the Library program animated four other Toronto Public Library branches with four additional talented artists and programs:
D’bi Young Anitafrika
D’bi Young Anitafrika is an internationally celebrated African-Jamaican-Canadian dubpoet, monodramatist, and educator. She is the published author of two collections of poetry, eight plays, two dubpoetry albums, and The Sankofa Trilogy. D’bi led theatre workshops for youth, culminated in a play at the Oakwood Village Library and Arts Centre.
Dwayne Morgan is a spoken word artist and the 2012 Canadian Festival of Spoken Word National Poetry Slam Champion. He is founder of Up from the Roots entertainment, promoting the artistic contributions of African Canadian and urban influenced arts. Dwayne taught spoken word workshops and helped participants explore their written work using photography and video at the Cedarbrae Branch.
Founded in 2006, FIXT POINT is a professional theatre and media company engaging communities with site specific performance and audio art. Their goal is to preserve local heritage and promote neighbourhood cultures through art and storytelling. The FIXT POINT group helped people at the Mimico Branch collect local stories to produce an oral history audio installation through recording workshops.
Rukhsana Khan is an award-winning author and storyteller. She has published twelve books ranging from picture books to short stories to teen novels. Rukhsana held storytelling workshops at the Fairview Branch, helping participants tell their life story.
Check out our Programs webpage for more special programs with artists, innovators and other talented Torontonians!