Sheena D. Robertson B.A., B.Ed., M.Ed
Sheena has been an expert in the field of the arts, literacy, youth engagement, and social justice consulting for over 20 years. She has done extensive work in diverse settings both nationally and internationally – both as an educator, and as an artist. She understands the significance of developing a thorough grasp of the cultural context for each project, and brings her grounded and intuitive approach to the work she does. Sheena taught in Toronto’s inner city community of Regent Park for many years, has a Master’s degree in Education from OISE/UofT, and is much in demand as a consultant. She teaches at OISE/UofT, and pioneered the ground breaking artist-training certification program at the Royal Conservatory. She is passionate about using the arts as powerful tools to create community, engage participants, and establish equitable environments, that encourage critical thinking, debate, and creative freedom. Those who have the opportunity to train with her never leave disappointed. Sheena is also an accomplished director, producer, and photographer whose professional roots lie in the theatre world. She was a finalist for the Toronto Arts Foundation’s TD Diversity Award in 2017.
Our Exemplary Arts-Educators
Ciara Adams – Actor/Musician/Media Artist/Lead Artist
Ciara has been a co-Artistic Director of bluemouth inc. since 2009. She is a creator/performer, musician, and educator. After studying Opera at Queen’s University, Ciara moved to London, England to train as an actor at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After graduation Ciara remained in the U.K. and worked with a number of theatres including The Royal National Theatre in London. She returned to Canada in 2002, and immediately started working in the theatre community; joining bluemouth inc. (What the Thunder Said, Something About a River, How Soon is Now, Dance Marathon [this production is currently touring the world]). and working as an associate artist performing with Theatre Gargantua, (Raging Dreams, e-DENTITY, FiBBeR’s). Meanwhile, as a musician, Ciara has released two albums with Decadent Rare Records; Ciara Adams Live at Le Select recorded at the Toronto International Jazz Festival, and Last of the Bohemians, a studio album produced at The Hive Studios in Toronto, Canada. Ciara is a lead artist with Learning Through the Arts at the The Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada, and teaches private voice from her home studio. www.ciaraadams.ca
Leslie Ashton – Visual Artist
Leslie is a visual artist working in a variety of 2D and 3D art forms including, puppetry, mask making, sculpture, drawing, painting, murals, collage and photography. Leslie studied theatre at the Dome Theatre in Montreal and then began her career as a founding member of Picardi Marionettes. With Picardi she toured extensively using a range of puppetry styles from traditional marionettes, shadow puppets, to giant street puppets. Later she formed Tintower Puppets and teamed up with Toronto writers and theatre troops to create dramatic productions involving puppetry for adults. During this time she has painted sculpted and used mixed media to express herself. Leslie has enjoyed teaching students of all ages to express themselves through puppetry and visual arts for more than 20 years.
Nancy Ciccone – Visual Artist/Lead Artist
Nancy believes that visual art is an essential for students to learn to communicate their ideas and shape their world. For 15 years Nancy has empowered students to celebrate and explore their unique voice through painting, drawing, sculpture and mixed media. She has extensive experience teaching innovative classes to preschoolers, teens and adults alike, in various government agencies and schools in Toronto and across the GTA. She also trains other artists to do work with students – she is certified as a Mentor-Artist through the RCM’s Artist Training Program. When not in the classroom Nancy runs a successful jewellery business that sees her designs sold across Canada and the United States.
Amanda Davis – Dancer
Amanda Davis is a Toronto based dancer and educator with a BFA in Theatre Performance Dance from Ryerson University (2010). Amanda currently dances and collaborates professionally with Alias Dance Project. Amanda has performed in works choreographed by Valerie Calam (Company Vice Versa), Hanna Kent (skindiversdancecompany), Julia Aplin, William Yong, Lauren Cook ( Alias Dance Project), Troy Feldman, Hanna Kiel and MonstaPop. She has performed in the 17th Internationales Solo-Tanz-Theatre Festival in Stuttgart Germany, The Toronto Fringe Festival, Fashion Arts Toronto, MOonhORsE Dance Theatre’s Dance and Design Project, CONTACT|THIS IS AN EXPERIMENT, Toronto’s Animating Historic Spaces, Toronto’s SummerWorks Performance Festival and Dance: made in Canada/fait au Canada. Amanda has delivered dance classes/workshops across Toronto for 9 years to dancers of all ages. She has worked closely with The Royal Conservatory of Music as an artist educator and consultant in curriculum development, The Dance Institute, Wishing Well Montessori School, Harmony School of Dance and Music, The Cornerstone Studio, The Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club and Propel Dance Centre.
Jess De Vittoris – Visual Artist
Jess De Vittoris is a visual community artist, freelance designer and curatorial graduate. In exploring issues of culture and translatability, she has had many opportunities to work in projects that regard cultural connections through the arts, constantly rediscovering fragments of her own notion of home in Puebla, Mexico. Jess is interested in creating socially engaged art, addressing inclusive practices to collaborate and share experiences.
De Vittoris is a facilitator in Visual Arts programming focused in engaging with young people and emerging artists while addressing accessibility within art practices. The techniques range from watercolour, acrylic, oil, image transfer, charcoal, resin, jewellery, bookbinding, soft and oil pastels and offer instruction in live modelling, portraiture and art theory.
RIchard Fung – Film Maker
Growing up in Regent Park, the oldest and largest low income housing in Canada, Richard realized while in high school that he wanted a career in film and television. He gained all of his knowledge and experience through Humber College where he graduated with honours in 2008. Since then Richard has won many awards as a filmmaker, including: 2nd Place in the Fall 2008 24 hour Film Challenge in Toronto, Top 3 Distinguished Documentary, and Winner for Best Broadcast at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival in the Real Ideas Studio program. Most recently he was the Grand Jury Prize winner at the 2009 Slamdance Film Festival for the Real Ideas Studio program. Richard continues to create films on his own and as a freelancer in Toronto. He is also a part-time Festival Manager for the Regent Park Film Festival, giving back to the community through film and educational workshops. He is happy to be joining the Kick Start Arts roster.
Larry Graves – Musician
Juno-nominated multi-percussionist, drummer and composer Larry Graves has dedicated himself to innovation through the exploration of rhythm-based performance traditions from around the world. After studying performance and composition at the Berklee College of Music, Larry became charmed by the deep sounds and confounding poly-rhythms of West Africa, India and South America. He has since made several journeys to Ghana and Senegal to inform his creative process. Larry currently presents workshops and performances with his percussion dance-jazz ensemble, DRUMHAND; performs/tours with his co-creation, Mr. Something Something; teaches drum set and percussion at York University; and creates/plays music for various contemporary dance organizations in Toronto. Larry endorses Dream Cymbals and local foods.
Charmaine Headley – Dancer/Choreographer
As Co-Founding Artistic Director of COBA, Collective of Black Artists, Charmaine Headley is a champion of Africanist dance. Through her work as an artist, choreographer, teacher and mentor she advocates for the recognition and inclusion of the contributions of ethno-cultural dance practices in Canadian dance history and culture. Headley pushes for a broadened societal appreciation of these art forms and advocates for reflexivity within curricula. A graduate of the School of Toronto Dance Theatre and a strong believer in the healing power of dance, Headley holds an honours diploma in Gerontology/ Activation Coordination and has created a movement-based senior’s program for her Master’s thesis at York University. Mother of one, Headley uses her choreographic voice to address socio-political and cultural inequity. The motto, “Our stories move me,” is the impetus in her choreographic work and pedagogy. She draws on Africanist forms, physically and metaphorically, to speak in a contemporary voice.
Carlie Howell – Musician
Carlie is a Toronto musician and educator with a passion for creativity and lifelong learning! As a student, she has a degree in jazz performance from the University of Toronto, and has studied the drumming and dancing traditions of Ghana, Japan, and Brazil. As a performer she can be heard playing jazz, classical, folk, rock, pop, reggae, klezmer, and improvised music. As an educator, she has received certification as a Level One Orff instructor, and a Mentor Artist Educator through the Royal Conservatory, and works with students from infant to retirement in private lessons, community centers, camps, and schools.
Sheniz Janmohamed – Spoken Word / Media Artist
Sheniz Janmohamed (MFA) is an author, artist educator and spoken word artist and occasional land artist. She has performed nationally and internationally for over 10 years and has been featured at various venues including the Jaipur Literature Festival, TedxYouth@Toronto, and the Aga Khan Museum. She is also the author of two collections of poetry: Bleeding Light (Mawenzi House, 2010) and Firesmoke (Mawenzi House, 2014). Her first book, Bleeding Light, received international praise and has been taught in numerous Canadian academic institutions including York University and the University of Toronto.
Sheniz has visited dozens of schools and libraries to teach and perform. Sheniz currently serves as a Mentor-Artist for the Digital Media Arts Program at the Royal Conservatory, and was the 2015 recipient of the Lois Birkenshaw-Fleming Creative Teaching Scholarship. She is a firm believer in fostering community through collaboration, compassion and creativity. In her own practice, she strives to embody her words through performance, mandala-making and writing in the ghazal form. www.shenizjanmohamed.com
Ben Lee – Multi-Disciplinary Artist / Puppetry & Performance Arts
Ben Lee is a multidisciplinary artist with an enthusiasm for community engagement, playfulness, and inclusivity, specializing in puppetry, street performance, and community arts. Initially entering the arts as a street performer, his practise has developed over the past six years to include work in film, visual arts, puppetry, installation, and arts education.
He frequently works as a performer and construction artist with Clay & Paper Theatre, a Toronto-based community arts company known for its parades, pageants, and plays in Dufferin Grove Park and other parts of the city. He has worked for several years with children with special needs at Holland-Bloorview Kids Hospital as a puppetry and visual arts facilitator, engaging with children of all ages with a variety of communication and physical challenges. He initially began working in schools as part of the Toronto School Board’s TDSBCreates program and has since continued to facilitate workshops independently with both elementary and secondary schools, working with mediums such as large-scale installation, puppet construction and performance, and mixed-media sculpture. As an arts educator, he encourages participants to take ownership over their projects and believes in giving students the opportunity to direct their own learning.
Michael O’Connell – Musician
For the past 20 years, Michael O’Connell has been an innovative Artist Educator working in classrooms nationally and internationally and in communities of young people living on the margins. Over the same period, he has maintained an international audience with his recordings and live performances as the artist, Culture Reject.
Michael is a Royal Conservatory Level III trained Artist Educator with an Honours BA in History and International Development from the University of Guelph. In places like Toronto, Chicago, Alberta, Grey County and Germany Michael has over 400 + hours in the classroom in the past 8 years. Michael’s work is primarily community arts based with marginalized and homeless communities in the GTA. He spends much of his time at Sketch Working Arts. He also brings a history of working with individuals and communities living with cancer (Gilda’s Club) , who struggle with addiction and mental health (CAMH, New Outlook) as well as extensive in-class projects with elementary, junior and senior students.
He strives to create a safe(r) environment with a repertoire of upbeat, fun and inclusive activities. Groups often explore identity, anti-oppression, school curriculum, through music, movement and digital media (photography/video). Michael is committed to working with Anti-Oppressive values and is constantly learning from communities and individuals with lived experiences of oppression.
Debbie Nicholls-Skerritt – Dancer/Choreographer
Debbie is a dancer/choreographer, actor and Mentor Artist-Educator. She has been a professional company member of C.O.B.A (Collective of Black Artists). She has trained in Tradition West African, Modern, Ballet and Indigenous Caribbean Folk dance forms. Debbie has had the great honor to be the Choreographer for the TDSB’s Arts-in-Education Dance Co-op for Secondary students. For the past 3 years Debbie has been a judge for the TDSB’s Dare2Dance competitions. She is the Co-Founder of Dance-Esteem a Movement and Spoken Workshop that empowers young girls and women through telling their story. She also a Registered Massage Therapist and teaches Dance Anatomy Workshops.
Andrea Piller – Visual Artist
Andrea Piller graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 1983. Her sculptural hand built ceramic works are ongoing investigations of natural form that evoke a primitive quality, aiming to synthesize the organic world and human experience. A recent move from city life to the countryside is informing her studio practice. Her work is shown nationally and internationally and has been the recipient of numerous art awards and Ontario Arts Council grants. As a mentor artist educator she shares her enthusiasm and knowledge for visual arts teaching in TDSB/TCDSB schools, including the facilitation of numerous indoor and outdoor mural installations, and at teacher professional development workshops. “I try to imbue what I believe is essential in all of us, that which connects us to the world; a courage to create on a personal level and challenge the imagination. Finding this is often a life journey. Sharing this is a joy.”
Ausar Stewart – Voice Coach/Actor/Director
Ausar Stewart is one of Canada’s leading Voice, Speech and Communications coaches offering his services through his company Free Your Voice. A sought after arts educator he presently teaches Voice & Speech classes at York University, the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts and has coached actors in Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre.
As an actor Ausar has performed on some of the country’s most celebrated stages including the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and Shaw Festival. His recent theatre credits include Dan, Strangers Babies; Theatre Panik. Ensemble role in Small Axe, Theatre Centre; The Pastor in Awake, Expect Theatre; Marcus Garvey in I Marcus Garvey, Theatre Archipelago. Ausar’s Film and Television credits include Recurring role on Rogue (Direct TV), Principal roles on Man Seeking Woman, Murdoch Mysteries, (CBC), Nikita (CW) and Covert Affairs (USA Network).
As burgeoning theatre director Ausar directed the main stage production of Love’s Labour’s Lost and a studio production of Les Belles Seours at Redeemer University College where he taught acting and performance classes. Ausar served as the assistant director on Obsidian Theatre and Factory Theatre’s Co-production of The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble directed by Philip Akin. He also was the assistant director on Tarragon theatre’s productions of Abyss and Much Ado about Nothing directed by Richard Rose.
Meredith Thompson – Dancer/Choreographer
Meredith is a Toronto-based dance artist, maker, and arts educator, originally from Huntsville, Ontario. She has performed throughout Canada and beyond with Sylvie Bouchard, Dancetheatre David Earle, the Danny Grossman Dance Company, Yvonne Ng, and Santee Smith, among others. A core performer with Dusk Dances, she has also been performing and touring with this outdoor dance festival for over a decade. As a maker, Meredith works both independently and collaboratively, and past projects have been presented at a number of festivals and events across Canada – more recently SummerWorks, Halifax Fringe, and the Sunrise Festival in Inuvik, NWT. Fond of teaching and young people, Meredith has been working as a teaching artist with the Toronto District School Board in a variety of capacities since 2000. She has also taught and facilitated dance and movement workshops for a number of arts organizations and companies, and she continues to do so. Among them is Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre where she is also the Director of the Young Apprentice Program. Meredith is a graduate of York University’s Department of Fine Arts and Faculty of Education.
Lorna Wilson – Actor/Drama Facilitator
Lorna combines two careers working both at York University, Faculty of Education as a Professor of Drama and at The Toronto District School Board as Drama Facilitator and Actor/Artist. Lorna has taught Drama to students of all ages. She was a professor at Queens University, Faculty of Education where she worked with pre-service teachers in education. She extended this teacher training to teachers in the Secondary School as well as the Primary, Junior and Intermediate Divisions. She works in their classroom with their students incorporating ways of relating Drama methodologies and techniques to the language curriculum – often using story-drama to explore meaningful themes with students. Lorna has adjudicated student performed plays at festivals and has directed many original student written productions. She is the author of a book called “Drama For Canada”. Lorna is an accomplished professional actor performing in many theatres across Canada such as Stratford, Shaw, and Canada Stage. She appears both on TV and Film.
Paula Wing – Actor/Writer
Paula Wing is a playwright and translator whose work has been produced across Canada and the U.S. Most recently, she wrote A THOUSAND PAPER CRANES for Geordie Theatre; it is currently touring eastern Canada. Her translation of Pierre-Michel Tremblay’s A STORY OF WAR, will receive its second production this season at Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon. She is currently at work on an original play RISKY PHIL, to be workshopped this fall at YPT in Toronto. Paula is also a very active artist-educator, who is passionately devoted to bringing the arts into the lives of young people. She directs Soulpepper’s Youth Mentorship, Leading Ladies, After School Theatre Club and March Break programs. She’s guided the Tarragon Young Playwrights Unit for the past seven years. She has been the playwright-in-residence at Applewood Heights Secondary School in Mississauga since 1998. She’s in demand for her workshops and seminars on writing, literacy and using drama to engage students and adults. She’s travelled Canada and taught thousands of students internationally as a Senior Artist with the Learning Through the Arts Program at the Royal Conservatory of Music.
Abby Zotz – Actor/Musician
Abby Zotz is a passionate, fun loving and multi-talented artist educator who sees music and drama as inspiring forces for learning, growth and change in children’s lives. She has developed and led workshops for such organizations as Learning Through the Arts (Royal Conservatory of Music), Kick Start Arts, Waterwood Theatre Projects, DAREarts Foundation, Open Door Arts Collective and VITA Community Living Services as well as being a private voice instructor and guest artist on a vast array of music and theatre education projects in schools throughout the GTA and northern Ontario.
An actor, multi-instrumentalist and classically trained singer, Abby thrives on creative diversity. In addition to having twenty years of experience performing in film, television and theatre, she is founder of the critically acclaimed a cappella Renaissance trio, The MadriGALS, a member of the traditional music ensemble Strings Attached and one half of the singer-songwriter folk duo Two Roads Home. Abby holds a BA in English and Drama from the University of Toronto, an MFA in acting from York University, Level One Orff Pedagogy and is a graduate of the RCM Artist Educator Professional Training Program with certification as a Mentor Artist.