Community research project to explore art-wellness programs for Scarborough’s 2SLGBTQ+ youth

Andrea Charise
Andrea Charise is an assistant professor in the department of health and society. She will co-lead a new project exploring art-wellness programs for Scarborough’s 2SLGBTQ+ youth (Submitted Photo)

A project exploring ways that arts-wellness programs can support 2SLGTBQ+ youth in Scarborough has received an award from the Connaught Community Partnerships Research Program.

Researchers from the FLOURISH Collective, an interdisciplinary arts-based research cluster, will collaborate with community partners, and using arts-based programming, will look at existing barriers for 2SLGTBQ+ youth in Scarborough. They will also explore culturally sustaining arts-based interventions and generate knowledge that can help inform public policy on social wellness through these programs.     

“To receive Connaught funding for this work is an honour,” says Andrea Charise, an associate professor in the department of health and society at U of T Scarborough who will co-lead the project with Dirk Rodricks, assistant professor, teaching stream, in the department of curriculum, teaching, and learning at OISE.

“This comes with a deep responsibility to ensure that we show up as accountable co-creators of knowledge that serves our community partner's needs first and foremost.”

Charise, whose research explores health, illness and aging through the arts and humanities, says community arts engagement is often not viewed as an important tool in supporting health and wellness.

“Our research leads with the tenet that flourishing is deeply embedded in community spaces, resources, and access to culturally-sustaining activities: arts engagement foremost among them,” says Charise, who was the lead developer of Canada’s first undergraduate program in health humanities.

The researchers have been working with 2SLGBTQ+ youth participating in EAST H.E.A.R.T, an art-focused, peer-to-peer mentorship program run by Scarborough Arts. Here they are looking at how arts engagement might help with learning and understanding about a variety of topics including consent, negotiating intimate relationships, HIV and STI prevention, community building, and belonging. 

For Rodricks, a queer, racialized, early-career scholar, the project is personal as well as professional. When he first moved to Toronto, he spent his first year in Scarborough and experienced the isolation of living in a new city as a multiply-marginalized young adult. To access space and resources, he relocated from Scarborough to the downtown core.

“This shouldn’t be the case. Neighbourhoods need to do more to keep its young people engaged right here. Research shows that for young people to see and be seen, is a fundamental right. This is particularly true for 2SLBGTQ+ youth,” says Rodricks. He adds that arts-based programming can help 2SLGTBQ+ youth flourish by offering a space to find community, express themselves, explore strengths and share a different vision of their future.  

The research project will involve a collaboration with Scarborough Arts, one of six Local Arts Service Organizations, which the researchers have partnered with for years. This campus-community relationship, has been instrumental in getting the project off the ground.

Charise one of four researchers at U of T to receive the award this year. The others are Beverly Essue and Angela Mashford-Pringle of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Pedro Mateo Pedro of the Faculty of Arts & Science.

The Connaught Partnership Program creates new collaborative research partnerships, or nurtures early-stage partnerships, between U of T and community partners. This fosters access to each other’s unique knowledge, expertise and capabilities on issues of shared interest that may evolve into more established relationships that will attract external funding.