Sheniz’s Speech in Support of Markham’s Culture Plan

Dec 10th, 2012

Markham Civic Centre Council Chambers 

Good Morning Members of Council, Mayor Scarpitti, Deputy Mayor.

“The arts are the best insurance policy a city can take on itself.”

–Woody Dumas, former Mayor of Baton Rouge

My name is Sheniz Janmohamed and I am a spoken word artist, poet, author and resident of Markham.  I’ve seen Markham change considerably in the last 20 years. I’ve watched friends  leave Markham to attend university and college, and I’ve seen them come back, like I have, after they’ve completed their degrees.   I’ve seen a growth and change in our communities. I’ve seen more and more young professionals riding on the GO train from Union to Unionville, like I do, on occassion. We have a great opportunity, now, as the newly crowned city of Markham, to harness the immense talent in within our borders and become a world-class centre for culture, and innovation in the arts.

But for that, local artists need support , and most importantly, funding.  We need opportunities to come to our doorsteps so we stop feeling the need to flock downtown (Toronto) to perform, collaborate and participate in the arts. We have to find artistic ways to encourage the citizens of Markham to stay within our city to get their cultural and creative fixes.   Instead of going to Toronto to pick the brains of artists and authors, young artists like myself can do it on home turf.  And there’s a need.

As a spoken word workshop facilitator, I’ve seen firsthand, how disengaged kids have become engaged. I’ve had students come into my workshops rolling their eyes and laughing at the thought of poetry. By the end of the workshop, they’re spitting rhymes that belong on the radio. I’ve seen how their faces light up when they receive praise from their classmates. I’ve read poetry from grade 7 students that puts mine to shame.

I’ve talked to students who admit to being victims of racism, verbal abuse and stereotyping. I’ve heard them complain about the lack of support they’ve received. I’ve listened to them speak about the fact that no one takes them seriously because they’re just “kids” or “teenagers” or “students”.

Through these discussions, they have regained confidence. They’ve found their voices. They’ve rapped about anti-racism. They’ve rhymed about stereotypes. They’ve collaborated on building communities.

This is proof that art is not art for art’s sake. Art can transform lives. It can contribute to dialogue, growth and understanding between communities.  I dream of a day when Markham becomes a place for artists from all backgrounds, cultures and disciplines to come together to create, collaborate, think, debate, work, perform, and write, where the heart of this city is its artists- when Markham becomes a  hub for arts education,  programming, career development, mentorship, and world class events.  But for the arts to become an effective  and successful vehicle for change and community engagement, we need a plan.

And that’s why I’m here– to support the Culture Plan.

As the First Lady, Michelle Obama stated back in 2009, “The arts are not just a nice thing to have or to do if there is free time or if one can afford it. Rather, paintings and poetry, music and fashion, design and dialogue, they all define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation”

So the question is: What will Markham’s future generations remember about our city? Our great works of art, the memorized lines of our poets & writers, the iconic visions of our painters, the timeless creations of our fashion designers and innovators, the lasting impressions of collaborators and community builders? Well..that depends on YOU. 

I ask you now- to close your eyes and think about that one book, that one poem, that one painting, that one film, that one production, that one song that has remained with you like a memory for all the years of your life- and then ask yourself what it would be like if you could have that effect on someone else. That is the power, and the beauty of art. That is the power and beauty of supporting arts and culture.  Support us, so we can continue to inspire you.

Thank you.

© Sheniz Janmohamed

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