3 min

SOY wins big at Mayor’s Arts Awards

Mayor Rob Ford reads a proclamation in support of the Toronto Arts Foundation

Clare Nobbs and John Caffery celebrate SOY's $15,000 Arts for Youth award from the Toronto Arts Foundation. Credit: Katie Toth
Queer youth group Supporting Our Youth (SOY) received $15,000 from the Toronto Arts Foundation Mayor’s Arts Awards on June 21.
The Arts for Youth cash prize was developed in 2007. It celebrates “an individual, collective or organization that has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to engaging Toronto youth in the arts,” writes the Toronto Arts Foundation.
After being nominated three years in a row, and shortlisted in 2009 and 2010, finally receiving the award was a “huge surprise” for SOY drop-in coordinator John Caffery. “We felt like the Susan Lucci of the Toronto Art Awards,” he jokes, noting that he was not expecting to see SOY win.
Rita Davies, executive director of cultural services with the City of Toronto, calls Supporting Our Youth a group of “fabulous, energetic, creative, great community leaders.”
“Right now there’s a lot of media [attention] about LGBT youth,” Davies says, pointing to the recent provincial legislation in support of gay-straight alliances in high schools. “I think it was just a particularly good time to have SOY be the winners.”
SOY’s projects have included a youth-led zine and a writing group called Pink In, the annual Fruit Loopz stage for youth performers at Toronto Pride, and sponsorship of the South Asian Video Project.
For program coordinator Clare Nobbs, the grant’s a result of years of work. “Every year you have another year of amazing things under your belt,” she says. Nobbs says that the work SOY did this year has stood out for her, particularly because of the art youth made together for the Trans Pride art show at Sherbourne Health Centre this May. “I’m just really glad to see art making a difference in the city and to see the mayor and the City of Toronto recognize that.”
They’re still not sure what they’ll be doing with the money: after years of almost-wins, they didn’t want to come up with a premature plan. “We didn’t want to tempt fate,” Nobbs says.
Besides coordinating art with youth, SOY also has an emergency fund to help young people get a hand up — whether that’s a new pair of shoes for an interview or help covering counselling costs or someone’s rent. 
Even though SOY’s other work may cover more immediate needs, Nobbs says, art and creative expression are huge priorities for the group. “It’s the difference between surviving and thriving,” she says. SOY’s art programs help kids work through their struggles and find the confidence to get back on their feet, she explains. “Through art, breakthroughs happen every single day.”

People were just about to sit down for the annual awards lunch when a special guest came into the room: Mayor Rob Ford himself.
Ford was a no-show at the Mayor’s Arts Awards last year, despite indicating that he would attend.
Ford, whose appearance this time around was unconfirmed until June 21, was not available for an interview, but he read a mayoral proclamation in support of the Toronto Arts Foundation.
“I join with everyone here today in congratulating all this year’s recipients, who have made significant contributions to the arts community in Toronto,” he read.
The mayor received a gushing reception from Toronto community members.
Sara Diamond, president of OCAD University, said Ford’s presence was “really fantastic.” She says that his attendance has an “algorithmic effect on the arts community, and the greater City of Toronto, for indicating the support for the arts from this council and its mayor.”
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam had only good things to say. “I think that was absolutely wonderful and really great to see the mayor come out,” she says. “Hopefully we’ll get to see him again next year.”
The lunch was held at the Arcadian, on the eighth floor of the Simpson Tower, above The Bay.
Ford left shortly after eating, so he wasn’t able to hear many of these plaudits. The event did, however, feature Rob Ford fridge magnets at each attendee’s table.