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County-based Darkspark inspired cross-cultural conversation from local to global stage

Students in ‘The Four Directions Project’, led by Prince Edward County based not-for-profit Darkspark, who created inspirational songs focused on bringing inclusivity and cross-cultural understanding, have been in the spotlight in the community, across Canada, and now globally.

Co-founders Mel Larkin and D’Ari Lisle

Co-founders Mel Larkin and D’Ari Lisle note Darkspark is about supporting youth to find their voices, engage with history in a novel way, and contribute to change. It includes a culturally diverse network of recording artists, educators, music producers and filmmakers.

It began with Grade 8 students at the Quinte Mohawk School participating in a transformative project, learning about Canada’s colonial history from a team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous performing artists and arts educators. They then wrote and recorded songs in response.

In June 2017, the Quinte Mohawk students joined Sophiasburgh school peers to present lyric videos they created to about 150 people who attended the launch of the first Downie Wenjack Legacy Room in Canada, at Miss Lily’s Cafe in Picton. The Downie Wenjack Fund was created by Tragically Hip frontman (and part-time County resident), the late Gord Downie, and his brother Mike, with the Chanie Wenjack family. Chanie, 12, died while running away from an Indian residential school in 1966. Mike Downie was in attendance and thanked Darkspark for collaborating with the students to open their minds to art, music and expression. Click here for story.

The students challenged Darkspark to take the Four Directions project across the nation. Over two years the organization visited 11 communities across Canada, collaborated with more than 300 youth, and created 11 documentaries and 40 songs, which have garnered 16 million impressions worldwide.

Darkspark came full-circle Tuesday night in Tyendinaga with a community performance marking the end of the Four Directions journey and celebrating a UN Intercultural Innovation award.

“Darkspark teaches students about how popular music has and can have social impact and generate social change,” said Lisle. “The students’ heartfelt songs dig into the dark, yet let the light shine through. The students’ work will have a lasting impact in making a difference in the community and in their own lives – and this is a truly beautiful thing.”

They note that in direct alignment with one of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the Four Directions Project endeavored to harness education creatively.

“Participating youth discover how colonial prejudices and stereotypes were created, are maintained – and may be broken,” said Larkin. “The experience builds empathy, intercultural understanding, and mutual respect. The lessons encourage youth to believe their voices can create change in their communities and the world.”

Darkspark was recognized as a global leader in promoting intercultural understanding by being awarded the Intercultural Innovation Award by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and BMW.

The 2019 Intercultural Innovation Award (IIA) Ceremony earlier this month in Madrid, Spain was a celebration of innovative grassroots projects that encourage intercultural dialogue around the world.

The award, a partnership between the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the BMW Group, selects and supports projects that work toward a more peaceful and socially inclusive world by building mutual respect among peoples of different cultural and religious identities, rejecting violent extremism and embracing diversity.

Darkspark was one of 10 organizations worldwide recognized for the award, following a competitive selection process with more than 1,200 applications received from 128 countries.

“Darkspark is being recognized on this global stage because of the voices and bravery of youth from across Canada.” said Lisle, “Their willingness to share their stories has led to this award, which will allow us to tackle new issues and expand our work internationally. We are extremely grateful for this opportunity, and for the community support that has gotten us here.”

In addition to global recognition, the award provides access to resources including mentorship, funding to help expand and replicate projects, workshop and networking opportunities, detailed needs assessment and planning resources.

In 2020, Darkspark plans to expand internationally to work with youth on issues of racial divide, and will launch ‘Throw Down Your Arms’ working with survivors of gun violence.

Click here to visit the Darkspark website.

Videos below include a behind-the-scenes look at the Four Directions project at Sophiasburgh school and the lyrics videos Wake Up, No More, Shine a Light, and The Pledge, written by Grade 7/8 students at Sophiasburgh school in 2017.

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  1. Marc Keelan-Bishop says:

    Congratulations Mel and D’Ari on such a rich project and good luck on your global expansion!

  2. Dennis Fox says:

    With young people like this our future is bright! Thank you!

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