Sketch: An Organization You Should Know About

Based in the Ossington and Queen West neighbourhood, Sketch is a local initiative which offers Toronto’s homeless and marginalized youth a creative outlet and a positive community influence. Now celebrating its 20th year, Sketch reaches out to young people, primarily aged 16-29, hoping to spread the powerful influence of art throughout Toronto. Sketch’s founders believe that traditional social services often focus on what’s wrong with troubled youth, pushing them into a place of “long-term receiving, rather than long-term developing”. Sketch does not focus on their participant’s struggles; instead, it focuses on developing their unique skills and talents, hoping to kindle a sense of purpose and ambition. Through this encouragement, Sketch’s creators believe that they can teach Toronto’s youth to build leadership skills, learn economic self-sufficiency, and cultivate the motivation they need to work towards their passions.

Since opening their doors in 1996, Sketch has welcomed more than 10 000 participants into their program. Annually, over 850 youth visit the organization, many of whom go on to find employment in the arts or return to school in pursuit of their new-found passion. Sketch incorporates visual arts, music recording, dance, performance, culinary arts, industrial skills, and more in their projects. Its contributors firmly believe that prioritizing inclusion and responsibility in troubled youth will build better health and wellness, inspire literacy and furtherment of education, as well as encourage self-discovery in young people who have often spent their whole lives being discouraged. Sketch aims to stop stigmas placed upon marginalized youth, celebrating them as valuable culture-makers, perception-changers, and community builders.

Receiver of Toronto’s Community Foundation Vital Ideas Award, Sketch first aims to earn trust in newcomers, a vital step in building the honest expression of thoughts and new ideas. Throughout its years of service, the foundation has developed its Theory of Change: a three-step program culminating in a self-governed alternative education. The first step is to engage. Engagement in the arts is promoted to newcomers through inclusion, encouragement, and freedom to explore their strategically-planned programs. Next, Sketch aims to incubate through a variety of workshops hosted by local artists and teachers, who work alongside youth to develop their creative skills. This process of self-discovery takes place during four ten-week art sessions, experimenting with various disciplines of art, from textiles to interpretive movement.

The final step in the Sketch program gives their participants a platform. Sketch provides youth access to their independent studio, where more established young artists can complete larger projects. They also offer ongoing support and guidance, assisting youth with continuing education and employment. They work with other local initiatives for street youth, which can provide further mentorship in the skills that participants develop during their time in the program. The most notable platform is their Community Arts Leadership Program, a paid year-long leadership training program. For nine years, this internship has given emerging artists the chance to build portfolios and refine their skills. Each year, four marginalized youth are chosen, emerging from the program with business-planning models and entrepreneurial knowledge. Since 2007, over 80 youth have been trained in this program, many of which have since attended schools such as OCAD and George Brown College, choosing to pursue careers in their fields of choice.

One of Sketch’s recent success stories is Gloria “Glowz” O’Koye. The Toronto teen is a visual artist, writer, and spoken-word performer. Gloria, one of Sketch’s artists-in-residence, has recently opened her own business. She designs, writes, and creates her own greeting cards, which sell for $5 on her namesake Facebook page. By spreading her story at spoken-word poetry events, she hopes that her work will inspire others. At a recent event, she recalls aspiring to write a book as an eight-year-old girl. Now, Gloria emphasizes the importance of having a creative outlet, crediting her writing as the primary channel which allowed her to reflect upon and deal with her depression in a positive way. She hopes to help others realize their resilience through creativity, and is now working on a book which she intends to be used by educators and mentors as a resource for helping other troubled youth. Gloria plans to donate her own time in the future as a resource to troubled youth, hoping to provide companionship and guidance to those who can resonate with her story. A shining example of the power of Sketch’s mission, Gloria deeply believes in the program which continues to provide Toronto’s marginalized youth with encouragement and support. She finishes her spoken-word performances with the summative line: “Your art will save lives even though you don’t know it”.

Sketch is funded by the City of Toronto, Youth Employment Services, and contributions from independent donors. They offer orientations for those looking to participate in the program, tour the studios, or get involved on a volunteer basis. Sketch can be reached through their website,, or by searching @SKETCHToronto on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.