By Kathy Rowe

The Port Union Skatepark has a new look. Thanks to Toronto Parks Forestry and Recreation, youth outreach worker Melanie Bailey, an artist from Unity Charity and an enthusiastic group of youth, a section of the skate park concrete is beaming with some new urban artwork.

Parks, Forestry and Recreation is currently working closely with Unity Charity as part of a weekly after-school program initiative. Each week an artist from Unity Charity (I will refer to him as “Sam” as he does not wish to be identified) visits the Heron Park Community Centre’s Enhance Youth Space, also  known as “The 6ix “ to engage youth through art. The space is supervised by youth recreation programmer  Maria Ringgold.

When I recently visited “The 6ix”,  a group of teens was working with Sam and they were creating innovative time capsules. He was teaching the group how to spray paint with a layer technique. “When these boxes are dry, each participant will write a letter to themselves, place it in the box and seal the box. The idea is to open the box in the future and read the letter,” he explained.

Sam studied criminology at a renowned Ontario university a few years ago, but he has left that all behind him now. He works full time for Unity Charity and loves it. “I have seen the worst in human behaviour,” he said. “I want to engage youth and keep them out of trouble. Youth are going to paint no matter what. Right now the city has no legal places for youth to paint. So we came and asked permission.”

Permission was granted and a plan to create fresh art in the skatepark was soon underway.  Sam explained, “the original design idea was to paint a portrait of a male and a female.” Unfortunately, the artist who was to lead this design was unavailable to carry it out. Sam hopes to return with several artists in the better weather to repaint. “I think it’s important that the original idea that the youth group came up with is honoured,” he said. In the interim, the youth agreed on several meaningful words to be painted. The names of the painters also appear near these words.


Melanie, the youth outreach worker, was thrilled with the idea of this project. She worked hard to gather youth from both the Heron Park and Port Union areas to become involved. “There were three phases,” she explained. “Phase one involved discussion surrounding how the youth wanted to see themselves portrayed within the community. Phase two was a discussion about concrete ideas and design. Phase three was the action:  painting day at the park under the supervision of both city staff and the artist from Unity Charity.”

Melanie was visibly pleased with the result. “The real challenge was getting all kinds of youth to participate in the project and work together.” Justice Miller, 13, was one of the many painters on the project. “I had a lot of fun! I learned new painting skills like drop shadow and other lettering techniques,” claimed Justice who has been spray painting since she was 6 years old.

Melanie added, “these projects are youth driven so we hope to see more projects like these in the future.”

For more information about  “The 6ix “(Enhance Youth Space at Heron Park), please contact Marla Ringgold at 416-396-7684.

To find out more about the youth empowerment art/dance programs offered by Unity Charity,  please visit