Just after lunch yesterday two members of Ottawa’s MASC organization stood in front of Anderson House’s massive fireplace in Washington D.C. to accept the International Spotlight Award as part of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards. Outside the building it was 11 degrees but inside it could have been 11 below because Executive Director Audrey Churgin and program participant Akuol Luala were trembling. This was no ordinary honour.
The awards are given by the largest and most-prestigious arts organization in the English-speaking world: The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities with partners the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. It was a Who’s Who of creative achievement, and MASC was the sole non-U.S. winner.
MASC (Multi-Cultural Arts For Schools and Communities)’s Awesome Arts Program helps Ottawa youth explore their communities through creative expression from workshops to performances and Youtube videos. It started with One World Arts in 2008 and then moved into MASC in 2013. Chocolate Moose Media has been a supporter right from the start, primarily through the long-time relationship between founder Firdaus Kharas and MASC director Micheline Shoebridge.
Luala has been active in Awesome Arts for eight years, creating a video on racism, working on a collaborative visual arts piece, participating in an intergenerational spoken word poetry program, interning with video artist Craig Conoley of Dan Rascal and now assuming the role of assistant to help manage the program.
“Awesome Arts has enabled me to grow through the exploration of different types of art while addressing important issues that I’ve explored in my neighbourhood, “ she says.
The organization has become a vital link for youth in Ottawa by “raising awareness of local issues and proposing solutions through their artwork. (P)articipants foster thought-provoking conversations and insights, helping to create positive change in their community,” according to MASC. It has also worked with U.S. artists who have come to Ottawa on projects co-ordinated by the U.S. Embassy, Secretary of State.