BC Culture Days ambassador Lyn Verra-Lay has arts and culture in her blood. With an upbringing rich in artistic curiosities, Verra-Lay has been paying it forward by supporting the artistic ventures of Surrey's youth for fifteen years. Her experience as an arts administrator has informed her insight into the prowess of youth today as she continues to foster opportunities for her community.
Photo above: Tom Zillich, Surrey Leader
Words: Lyn Verra-Lay
In many ways, I have been an ambassador for the arts nearly all my life, so it is fitting that I’ve been honoured with the title of BC Culture Days Ambassador. My parents instilled in me a love for performing and visual arts by being exceptional artists themselves. Fine arts were a definite reality and a way of life in our household; that strong foundation was established early.
Music, through bands and choir, was (and still is) my favourite means of expression and led me to many opportunities in my youth such as travelling to Europe. Later on, dance was added to the mix and the world of musical theatre performance and production began to take over all my free time. Weaving throughout the musical areas in my life were countless forms of visual art that also kept me engaged. Eventually, the visual and performance art world began to meld together and led to my exploration into scenery painting and stage prop construction. All of this fine art exposure and experience, plus some post-secondary art education, served me well as I became an adult in the work force.
In my professional career, I’ve worked with children and youth for fifteen years. As a Brownie leader, working in daycares, working as an art instructor and leading youth organizations like the Youth Arts Council of Surrey (YACOS), I’ve learned to create art projects for children that are both fun and appropriate for their development levels. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing how art projects can nurture youth into well-rounded, contributing members of society. Creativity is an enjoyable and effective way to work on a child’s development.
One of our YACOS members, Gurmehak Bhourji, found that being with YACOS inspired her "to do more in her community," and she’s been very busy indeed. She submitted her photography into a juried art exhibition, created free workshops for children and plays an instrument called the esraj for people in hospice. I spoke to another returning member, Pam Dhadwal, about how the organization has helped her own development. A self-described “shy kid in the back of the class,” who never spoke up, Pam found that participating in YACOS events was a safe and inclusive place for her to blossom. Pam did not consider herself an artist, but found the enthusiasm of youth involved in arts events contagious! Speaking with her recently, she said, "Now, I'm the girl at the front wanting to seek more adventures, wanting to take risks [and] wanting to make change… I have YACOS to thank for that."
As coordinator for YACOS, it was obvious to me that youth could be involved in a BC Culture Days activity, so a Canvas Coffee House is scheduled for the BC Culture Days weekend. Informal and casual, this is an event held a few times a year that celebrates the multi-disciplinary artistic interests of youth in Surrey. We will have an open mic, a visual art exhibition and dance lessons hosted by the Sudnya Dance Academy. This group of dancers studies the Bharata Natyam, one of eight classical Indian dance forms. Can't wait to try it out!
I would love to see more youth get involved and attend our activity, so they can feel the empowerment that arts can inspire. Canvas Coffee House will take place September 29 at 6 p.m. in the Newton Cultural Centre in Surrey. What can you add to your foundation of skills?
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