BAM Collective, 2021 Finalist

BAM (Books Art Music Collective) is a youth-led collective aiming to empower equity-seeking young individuals through art and community engagement in Ontario and New York. Operating from an anti-oppression framework, BAM brings awareness to issues that matter to equity-seeking young individuals and empower them by hosting community art workshops and gatherings. BAM also organizes online campaigns and conferences and runs creative programs to support and connect youth with resources to strengthen our communities.

Thanks to the BAM Collective, we got to learn more about their history and vision for the future. Learn more below.

What was the inspiration behind the founding of BAM 3 years ago?

The inspiration for founding the BAM Collective was the community-building stories both co-founders bring to the table. Both Ryerson University students and Syrian refugee newcomers Hanen Nanaa and Hani Moulia made Toronto home back in 2016. They believe that Toronto's diverse artistic community inspired them to give back and support others. After fleeing war, Hani captured stories of refugees in the Lebanese camp through his lens as a legally blind photographer. He empowered refugees through his talent and advocated for them through his passion for photography and community building. For Hanen working with vulnerable communities in Turkey was a life-changing experience because of the daily little interactions that she committed to and the huge change it made in her life and that of the people she worked with. Having been refugees themselves, Hanen and Hani were inspired by the people they worked with, they were resilient, and they taught them to be strong, to be compassionate, to forgive, and to wake up every morning and see it as a new day. These experiences made them realize the plight of human beings, and how the same person can be vulnerable and still look like a strong person. Understanding these aspects of human nature led both Hanen and Hani to work together in their new home Toronto and provide a creative safe space to support equity-seeking groups using art as a bridge to bring communities together, celebrate diversity and inclusion, and promote community building for Canada to be a great leader globally. Since it was founded, BAM has grown from two co-founders to ten core racialized youth who are artists and community organizers based in Toronto, and a rotating advisory board of eleven experienced creatives, professional artists, and community leaders. In three years, BAM made an impact on numerous communities in Toronto, Ontario, and New York.

In November 2020 BAM held a Youth Mental Health Conference to talk specifically about inequalities in mental health care especially when it comes to immigrant and Indigenous youth communities. Why do you feel the connection between art and mental health is so important? What do you want folks to know about the intersection of mental health advocacy and art education and/or practice?

We at BAM are grateful for the arts. We believe art is a universal language that connects our communities to heal, share stories of challenges, celebrate success, and take actions for change. Art is the heart of BAM; it helped us provide a safe, creative space for newcomers, refugees, and Indigenous youth to connect and share stories on mental health. Our conference featured mental health advocates, professionals, and artists who performed to acknowledge inequalities in mental health care to newcomers, refugees, immigrants, and Indigenous youth communities in Ontario. Art helped us to provide youth with space to practice healing and emotional expression and encourage them to use their creative talents to advocate and speak up on the lack of mental health resources. We will continue to use art and encourage individuals to promote creativity when bringing awareness to important issues affecting young Canadians, such as mental health. Art does not only connect us to relax, inspire and improve talents; it is also valuable in treating mental health issues and is a great way to express emotions, share stories, and process complex feelings. Moreover, at BAM, we believe that mental health is an essential aspect of our work. Our collective focuses on spreading awareness on how art can be therapeutic for mental health. We work on projects which encourage individuals to realize their abilities, help them cope with the normal stresses of life, and contribute to their community.

You are currently a Leading Social Justice Fellow. How do you think art makes our society more inclusive and equitable? How does art contribute to creating a more inclusive and equitable society?

Art is a powerful tool to improve and strengthen our communities to be more inclusive and equitable. BAM has been highlighting social justice issues by promoting diversity and bridging gaps for equity-seeking groups to speak up for their communities and access equal opportunities. Our programs use art and creative tools to bring awareness to various issues affecting vulnerable communities; art is essential for giving people a voice to share their struggles and advocate for the voiceless. It helped us support talents and give platforms for equity-seeking groups to share stories, make decisions, and create more supportive communities. BAM is currently a leading Social Justice Fellow; our project will use the art to break barriers and highlight the gap between the BIPOC, newcomer, and accessibility youth communities in the GTA and Ontario. We at BAM believe that art is our foundation, leading us to work and build an inclusive and equitable society.

Tell us what’s next for BAM. What future projects are you currently working on?

  1. In collaboration with the Syrian Canadian Foundation and funded by the Ryerson University’s Office of Social Innovation, BAM will launch the first-ever national youth-led Virtual Social Justice Cafe, an online forum for youth-led community arts and activism. The cafe is a bridge for youth to connect with young professionals and artists and educate our communities and advocate for social justice while celebrating diverse forms of art to heal and support young talent.
  2. Funded by the City of Toronto, BAM will launch Youth Against Violence: Rays of Hope in Scarborough and Regent Park, a series of art therapy and creative workshops exploring strategies of healing, resiliency, and recovery for youth affected by gun violence.
  3. BAM Collective’s Growth Magazine, is youth-led arts publication, highlights young artists in the GTA who have demonstrated community impact. We will be opening submissions in the summer for our next COVID-themed issue.
  4. Funded by Laidlaw Foundation and in collaboration with community organizations, BAM will be leading the first-ever conversation between Syrian Newcomers Youth and Indigenous Youth in the GTA. This conversation will provide the youth with a safe, creative space to collectively share the accurate history of Canada and break barriers for both communities to work toward reconciliation, standing up together against racism, discrimination, and injustice through art and healing workshops.
  5. In collaboration with @enviromuslimscanada @peelclimatecouncil @climateillustrated, BAM is launching “Our Climate Our Stories,” a digital book highlighting personal stories, poems, and short fictional stories by BIPOC youth in Canada.
  6. The Story Stick project, a series of 9 workshops culminating in a piece of collaboratively created public art. These workshops are created for youth ages 14-29 and will be located in East York & Scarborough.
  7. BAM will be hosting virtual community events to bridge the gap between New Yorkers and Canadians through arts and supporting local businesses.

 How does it feel to be nominated for the Arts for Youth Award?

We are extremely honoured to be nominated for the Arts for Youth Award. Art has always been an integral part of our organization. We are grateful to call a lively and colourful city like Toronto our home. We appreciate those who value our work in bridging gaps so people can come together and create more robust and mutually supportive communities. We are privileged to have a community that encourages us to contribute to practicing pluralism and supporting a more interconnected, multi-faceted community in Toronto that brings together different ethnic and multi-generational participants through art & thought.