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United Way grant program leads to Squamish youth art projects

Howe Sound Secondary leadership student creates Space2B, a community-building art project.
United way story
Sonoma Brawley with artwork at Squamish Adventure Centre.
Howe Sound Secondary leadership student Sonoma Brawley has created a community-building art project called Space2B.

"It stands for Squamish Arts Circle of Excellence, and the P stands for any art form that you do: performing, painting, poetry, or point. I welcome every genre at Space2B because it is a destination for youth artists to connect, collaborate and create," she told The Chief.

The project is funded by the United Way of the Lower Mainland "Hi Neighbour" community-building initiative.

Ten local residents received UWLM Local Love grants to help strengthen connections within neighbourhoods, while following COVID-19 safety protocols.

For the first part of Space2B, Brawley gave sketchbooks and supplies to 24 Squamish students from Grade 6 to Grade 12.

The artwork that results gets posted to her @space_2b Instagram account.

Some of the artwork is also on display at the Squamish Adventure Centre until the end of May.

"I was blown away by the talent," Brawley said. "I feel very honoured that I was able to be a part of this and organize it because I was really introduced to how really talented our local artists are."

Another part of Brawley's project is that artwork from young artists is on display at The Artisan Gallery downtown.

Brawley said that with COVID-19, mental health issues have increased and believes the arts can help.

"I see a connection between the arts and mental wellbeing and wellness. As a member of student council at Howe Sound, mental wellness in our students is something we are really focusing on right now," she said, "I saw a benefit of creating a safe community for local artists to share their art and participate in the arts for maybe the first time or in a new way."

She is applying for additional funding to create a speaker series. The aim is to bring in professional artists from various genres to share their knowledge with local youth.

Brawley, who is in Grade 12, is most comfortable in musical theatre, a world she wants to work in professionally one day, she said.

She takes dance classes for 20 hours a week in North Vancouver and music and voice lessons at Squamish Academy of Music.

Dylan Cohen, who manages the United Way Hi Neighbour initiative, said the projects chosen for the grants aim to strengthen the community.

"Our work centres on community development and helping neighbours to find ways to contribute to the places they call home. Our Squamish community engagement team of two people is working hard to support volunteerism and community participation and create ways for people to give back and meet their neighbours," he said, noting social isolation is currently a huge issue for many.

United Way boasts  2.8 million volunteers worldwide. April 18 to 24 is National Volunteer Week.

Each of the Love Fund grants handed out in  Squamish was for between $400 to $1,000. Eight were $800 or more.

Awarded projects included, among others, a Winter Welcome and Shelter for people without fixed addresses in Squamish; a cross-generational woodworking initiative with Squamish Men's Shed to build 30 classroom umbrella stands at Don Ross Middle School; a École Les Aiglons street mural; Paddling Together, a new outdoor and homeschool group and Squamish Elder program, and the Little Diverse Book Club.

Find Brawley's project on Instagram at @space_2b.

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