Welcome to this edition of A Labour of Love: 10 Years of Creativity, Community, and Care, our special series of interviews commemorating the people who have worked with us to change the world for the better. In this edition, we’re speaking with Kaya Joan, who worked at The Public during their high school co-op, making them the youngest person to have worked at The Public! Since then, they have continued to share their talents as a community arts worker, interdisciplinary artist, and facilitator. They are currently completing a BFA through the Indigenous Visual Cultural Program at OCAD U, and showing their work this summer at their solo show, opening on June 7th at the Soso Food Club for Dundas West Fest x The Rude Collective, and group exhibition, opening on June 20th at Gallery 1313.
The Public: It’s so great to see you back at the studio! To start off, can you tell us about how you first met The Public?
Kaya Joan: It was actually through doing the 12-hour Zine Machine, this event that Sheila invited me to participate in at Nuit Blanche. Every hour, a different zine was made, and our group created a zine on “What is your superpower?” There were people in the room watching us, and we would invite them to come and collaborate on a page or add something. It was really intense, but also really fun, because I was just more on my feet as an artist and solidifying the idea that this was what I want to do with my life. I was in Grade 10 then, and I felt very grown up doing it as a teenager, and just engaging with the community through zines was super fun; it was really awesome to reach out to people through art like that. That was also my first introduction to zines and it really made me fall in love with zine making, and now I’m all about zines and facilitating zine workshops. In Grade 12, I was looking to do my high school co-op placement, and my mom had reminded me that The Public was a place I could reach out to again, because I really wanted to feel out graphic design and what that was like, so I thought this was the perfect space to do that.
TP: What were some of the things you worked on at the studio?
KJ: So, I was basically treated as an intern, which was really awesome. I was asked to create a poster for the People’s History Poster Series, and to create a DIY zine for the Creative Resistance How-to Series. I did the poster around Black Lives Matter, and then the zine was around comics. I chose Black Lives Matter, because the organization had just formed, and I could personally relate to the movement; and then with comics, I had been reading and drawing comics my whole life, so I could walk people through how to do them through a zine.
These projects really taught me how to research thoroughly, and a lot about InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator, and Sheila was right beside me for any questions I had. I got really comfortable with the programs, and it’s like OCAD did not teach me nearly as much as the co-op did in terms of those programs! Having mentors like Sheila and Nat was really special and I felt really honoured to have that opportunity to produce such important work researching social justice issues. Being able to have Sheila walk me through creating a zine, and have it be a resource for other people is very helpful for what I do in my practice now when I facilitate zine workshops.
TP: What was it like working here as you were finishing high school?
KJ: It was really magical to come into The Public’s space, because your office before was also really wonderful, and just to see that a work space could be like that was really cool. It instilled very good values and work ethic in me, just being in a creative work space, getting a feel for what that looks like. I learned how to manage time when producing a finished product. Like how to manage research, but then also plan out what the work is actually going to be and how to juggle all of that. I feel like having to do that at a young age really set me up for university especially. It was incredible and I would not be where I am without that co-op to be honest.
After being at The Public, I decided to go on a design path, and I went into the Illustration program at OCAD. I did that for two years, but I found that I didn’t get that much out of the program, because I wanted to continue practicing the technical skills that I was learning at The Public, such as Photoshop, InDesign, and the whole Adobe suite to help me with my practice, but I found that I wasn’t really getting that. So, I switched programs and went into the Indigenous Visual Culture program, which allowed me to form networks with a bunch of different communities, like Artscape and Sketch. That’s also what I really loved about The Public; all of your networks and everyone you collaborated with. That was really inspiring to me, because I also wanted to be collaborating with awesome people. So, after switching to that program, I was in a community where I felt much more at home. I find The Public does an incredible job at being able to make decisions about aligning with people who have similar values and that’s something I’ve really taken with me.
TP: Is there anything you learned about yourself while at The Public?
KJ: I learned how I work for sure. It was a very low-pressure environment, and to have this camaraderie with the people who you’re working with I think is really important. I learned how I research; that is something that was really important to me, going into university, just to be super thorough. I learned how I keep a notebook, like a work notebook, because everyone had these really cute work notebooks! I was like “oh my god, I need to do that too!” That’s something that I have with me right now. I also learned how to schedule properly… I could keep going on, it’s hard to think of everything on the spot, but overall I learned what kind of creative person I want to be aside from just a personal art practice.
"I love using art as a pathway to healing, because art is something that you have to take care of yourself in order to participate in, and it's also an act of care."
TP: Can you tell us a bit about what you’re currently working on?
KJ: Well, as I mentioned, the zine thing really stuck with me and I’m super into facilitating workshops, especially for youth. I really love working with youth, because I’ve been a camp counsellor since I was sixteen, so I decided to meld that with my love of art and zine making. Now I facilitate workshops, but I also am really looking to build my own programs for youth through grants or whatever I can access to build solidarity between Black and Indigenous youth communities, because I’ve been a part of some really cool programs that have done that.
In terms of my own personal art practice, I’m working a lot with the recovery of ancestry and stories through design and seeing how I can create accessible ways for people to relate to that work who are of similar journeys or backgrounds as myself.
TP: That’s so amazing! In your facilitation work have you gained any insights on what community means to you?
KJ: Well I think community to me means support, love, and care for sure. I think that’s why I love using art as a pathway to healing, because art is something that you have to take care of yourself in order to participate in, and it’s also an act of care. Community can mean so many different things, but I think most importantly, it’s love and support. And people you can trust, people who help you grow as well. Community is like a garden! It’s so cheesy, but--
TP: It's so true though! Especially with facilitation, it sounds like you’re creating an ecosystem, setting up the conditions for that creativity and that care. And by doing that, you’re setting people up to see that they actually have the base for these skills or at least they have the wisdom and they can be like “ok, now I get to make a thing that I didn’t know that I could do before.”
KJ: Yes, a lot of people come in to workshops being like “I’m not an artist, I can’t draw, I can’t do this” and it’s like “No, you can! You really can!” I love getting that out of people; that is such a joy and I think facilitation is really fun, because you just vibe with people. You can prepare all of the things, but then whoever you’re in the room with, that will change everything. That’s also something that makes me nervous about facilitating, but it’s also really exciting and I love doing that. I don’t like the talking part, because I don’t really like talking much, but it’s the part when people are making, and I can go up to them and talk to them about what they’re making and help them, maybe push an idea or something like that. That’s my favourite part; when everyone is creating together.
I feel like facilitation really grounds me too, because it really brings you into the moment and I love things that do that, because I struggle with anxiety and it’s so hard to be centered and be in the moment, but when facilitating, you really have to be in that space. When you get other people to get into that space too, and then you’re all there together, it’s like magic. That’s why I really love working with youth, because I feel like that moment is easier to get to with them. They have such brilliant ideas and imaginations and their egos aren’t as big yet. Youth are really magical beings to create with.
I was the Visual Arts Coordinator at a camp last year, which was really incredible, because I was facilitating a different workshop every single day for two weeks. So that really pushed me in a lot of ways, but it was also really, really great. There were a lot of difficult moments, because youth aren’t always easy to work with all the time, they can be very stubborn and lose attention and what not, but it’s just that more satisfying when you do get to that moment with them.
TP: Is there anything you would like to add about how your time at The Public has impacted you and your work?
KJ: I have a lot of memories from working with The Public, and a lot of them are just like personal “aha” moments working on my projects. Like I would come across something in my research that would fit in really well with what I was creating. Those moments made me feel so good and I think that feeling kind of has stuck with me, like if you’re working hard at something, you’ll get to the point that you want to get to, and if you don’t then it’s time to move on. I think that’s something that really stuck with me from working on the poster and zine. And just how magical of a place this is, and how grateful I am to have come across it and be a part of the community and have worked here. You all are doing amazing work and I am so blessed to know you!
TP: Thank you for coming by to chat with us, Kaya! We are so proud of you!