Art Starts build-a-bike program for youth in Lawrence Heights, Villaways and Glendower neighbourhoods

Kids at Lawrence Heights work under a pavilion at the Community Garden at John C. Polanyi School

A Bicycle Built for You!

New Art Starts build-a-bike program for youth in Lawrence Heights, Villaways and Glendower neighbourhoods to continue in 2014

guestBLOG from Art Starts

A Bicycle Built For You is an earn-a-bike program with a twist. Kids in this program administered by Art Starts not only get the chance to build up a bicycle, learning valuable mechanical skills along the way, but they also turn the bike into an expressive piece of functional art. By first stripping the parts off the frame, then creating stencils, masking and painting the frames, and then rebuilding the whole bike: they truly make the bikes their own.

Participants are children ranging from 9 to 19 years old, who reside in one of three under-served neighbourhoods in the GTA: Lawrence Heights, Villaways (Leslie and Sheppard) and Glendower (Birchmount and Finch). The three Toronto Community Housing sites that Art Starts partners with, lie outside of the downtown core and lack the cycling-supportive infrastructure that is often taken for granted downtown. Getting young people involved in cycling in these areas through creative cultural expression is one way to create awareness and provide options for mobility and healthy lifestyles. Getting more people on bikes will hopefully provide positive forward movement towards the incremental development of active transportation networks and more cycling and walking infrastructure in the inner suburbs.

With a generous grant from the City of Toronto's Community Recreation and Investment Program, Art Starts -- in partnership with designer and cycling aficionado Car Martin -- dreamed up this program as a means of combining community engaged arts programming with the bike movement. The combination of worlds can draw in a more diverse set of participants who may not be interested in ‘art’ or in ‘cycling’ independently.

Art Starts is a local leader in collaborative community-based arts, they have been operating in four under-resourced neighbourhoods for the last 21 years, helping communities to build a shared sense of identity through artistic expression. Program director Myra Leibu sees the bike project as a unique yet sustainable way of engaging with youth around issues of access, mobility and ultimately therein, justice. "This program fosters real empowerment for young people and bridges between communities, not to mention the creation of incredibly original bikes!" says Leibu.

At its core, the program provides children with a new bicycle that they decorate and maintain over the course of a seven-week period. However, the mandate of A Bicycle Built For You is not simply one of bicycle donations in lower-income communities; the program attempts to position the bicycle as something greater than a means of transportation, but as an object of pride and personal expression.

Here are a few photos by Car Martin from some of the Art Starts session:

Knowledge, speed and intuition were the words chosen for the design of Creation's bike frame

Hayden painted an incognito sand coloured bike that matched his style perfectly

Nurta’s frame was simple and well executed, with three stars and her name marked clearly on the down tube.

Devaughn, at Villawayz painted a colourful bike with some nice details.

Emmanuel and his brother Steven pose for the camera with a solid gold bike frame!

Jevaughn, Devaughn’s twin brother opted for a bright and cheery yellow and green bike

Taja used a technique of layering colours to create a sparkly, iridescent effect on her frame


Looking Ahead……

A Bicycle Built For You is now in it’s second term, working with 12 youngsters at Glendower Tower. Following on the enormous success of this project, Art Starts is currently looking to develop a sustainable funding model to provide these classes on an ongoing basis. We look forward to seeing those flashy bicycles riding around town.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Youth Leaders present cycle-friendly vision for Ontario

Youth Master Mechanics: Charlie's Freewheels

Art Spin and winner of the CBN poster contest

Biketastic Nuit Blanche


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