Lisa patterson as part of the youth express benefit show for Sketch at Hugh's Room (2261 Dundas West), Wednesday (June 29), $10. 416-531-6604. Rating: NNNNN
Roots pop artist Lisa Patterson has been around the world working with musicians from many cultures, but right now her most treasured collaborators are Toronto youth.
Her latest project is her June 29 Youth Express benefit show for Sketch, a local arts organization offering visual arts workshops and studio access to street-involved and homeless kids.
"Everyone can and should make art," Patterson says, "but not everyone can afford the lessons, supplies or space.
"There are lots of worthy causes to do benefits for, but for me personally it's most meaningful to support an organization that's concerned with the well-being of the future citizens of our planet - especially those who are fringe thinkers or without family or system support."
As a troubled teen growing up in Vancouver, Patterson escaped into music as a refuge, and now experiences joy in helping others find confidence in their artistic voice.
Sketch's mission of helping youth express themselves and find direction is a perfect fit with Patterson's passions.
"I'm really interested in Sketch's emphasis on feeding the artistic soul as a basic human need and basis for building self-esteem and life skills," she says. "Their studio offers a safe place for street youth to be respected as creators when a lot of our urban society too quickly writes off street youth as trouble."
Patterson's own music studio fosters kids' creativity in a similar way, offering them a condescension-free space to experiment and be mentored. That's the approach she takes to her Young Songwriters Showcase, which shepherds kids through the songwriting process and then gives them an opportunity to play their song live alongside seasoned musicians, building their confidence before an audience.
"I have kids from eight to 18 writing about everything - their experiences, life around them. Naturally, there are songs about love and nature, but also more difficult issues including bullying, the environment, poverty, suicide. I'm constantly blown away by their astute observations."
It all comes back to Patterson's philosophy of "walking the talk," and it's been a rewarding experience for all involved.
"It takes a helluva lot of courage to get up and share your thoughts and feelings with the world, and I've seen them gain tons of confidence in doing it. I get a lump in my throat listening and watching them give it their all."
Along with a performance by Patterson and her band and the Young Songwriters Showcase, Wednesday's benefit features the Youth Playback Theatre Project, also coordinated by Patterson, which creates a safe place for youth to tell their stories and then see them played back as improvised theatre.
Patterson thrives on seeing kids open up to their potential.
"It seems that up until a certain point we innately trust our creative impulses," says Patterson. "Then often something or someone can block that, so we hold back, doubt ourselves, get insecure and angry. I believe that if we learn to fearlessly express and trust our intuition at a young age, it's possible to remain open and expressive our whole lives."
Patterson's globe-trotting has also enabled her to show kids that they share a lot with youth around the world.
"I've done music workshops with kids in India and like to tell kids here how they have very similar creative impulses to move, tell stories, sing.
"The Western music industry would have us believe that music is a commodity solely for the purpose of marketing pop culture. But in many places in the world millions of people dance and sing purely for the joy of it. It's easy to forget that. I try to downplay the star system with youth. Everyone deserves to be heard."