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Ste-Emilie Skillshare: St-Henri’s dreamy queersville

Montreal collective aims to promote artistic expression, in the spirit of revolution

The Ste-Emilie Skillshare’s mandate is pretty simple: “Everyone is welcome to come by. Just don’t be an ass,” says Mayo, a member of the artists’ and activists’ collective.

Maintained with a love for people of colour, queers and trans people, the four-year-old collective aims to promote artistic expression in the community, running an art studio for people to learn skills, share skills and create art in the spirit of revolution and anti-oppression.

“We really depend on different people’s energies and connections,” says Mayo. “Each new person that gets involved expands what we do.”

The Skillshare hosts cheap or pay-what-you-can open studios and workshops on Saturdays and is currently accepting submissions for the Rogue Unicorns zine.

XTRA: How did the Ste-Emilie Skillshare get started?

MAYO: A few friends started talking about starting up an art space with a queer and people-of-colour focus. There wasn’t anything like that in our neighbourhood, St-Henri, which is a very poor neighbourhood, let alone in the rest of the city. So it was an opportunity to organize ourselves. A space became available, and we never asked ourselves if it was a good idea or not. We just knew it needed to happen.

XTRA: Who’s involved?

MAYO: There’s lots of different levels of involvement. We have a core collective, a silkscreen team called Side Tracks and then the larger community that uses our space. All in all, there are hundreds of people in Montreal and beyond that are part of what we do. There’s people who host workshops, who hire us for contract work, who perform at our shows, who tell their friends about this dreamy queersville in St-Henri and who bring their kids to come hang out.

XTRA: What type of workshops does the collective run?

MAYO: The collective mostly runs workshops about how to use the equipment, the silkscreen studio, the darkroom, the sewing machine and overlock. We invite others to come and run different workshops. Lately there’s been a bunch about soldering electronics together to build microphones or to circuit bend, a self-defence class for ladies, trans people and queers, and a stencilling workshop. People either get in touch with us if they’ve got a skill they’d like to share, or else we harass people we know or have heard of to put one together for us.

XTRA: Are there any particular skills the collective is looking for at the moment?

MAYO: A plumber would be great!

XTRA: Tell me about the forthcoming Rogue Unicorns zine.

MAYO: The Rogue Unicorns zine was an idea that a friend, Trasha, and I had while we were riding on the bus through Manitoba this past spring. We had stopped at some random art gallery in bustling downtown Brandon, and they were giving away this great little zine. It had local info about events that were happening, funny little rants, weird poems and robot porn. I don’t know, something about being on the bus for two days and then finding that thing in the middle of the Prairies, we wanted to work on something. And we kept talking about it during the rest of the trip, recording fake interviews with each other and talking about all the great lies we were going to tell about Regina, where we had gotten invited to present at a conference on community arts. Like about how it’s the senior LGBT capital of the country. Did you know?

XTRA: How has being involved with the Skillshare affected you?

MAYO: It’s grounded me a lot, given me something to be really proud of and some way to engage in social justice movements at a level that I’m comfortable with. I learned how to silkscreen here and have finally, after four years, gotten comfortable making art. These guys are my family, so they’ve been there for me through all the ups and downs of the last four years. I have a boyfriend, but this place and these guys are easily my backdoor man.

The Ste-Emilie Skillshare & Zine Distro is located at 3942 rue Ste-Emilie in Montreal. See steemilieskillshare.com for information about the Skillshare and to submit to Rogue Unicorns.