Intergalactic Travel, Blackhole Brew, Explorers, Dark Matter, Inner Space, Portal, Orbit, Outer Space. What do these words make you think of? Chances are, if you’ve had a close encounter of the literary kind with Story Planet while zooming around the “greater galactic area” known as Toronto, you know that they are buzzwords connected to this non-profit organization which “inspires young people to be creative and effective communicators.” Using the launch pad of visual arts, Story Planet’s programs—in-house and classroom workshops ranging in length from two hours to an entire year and targeted towards children ages 6 to 18—introduce youth to the idea that writing can be fun. Since most, though certainly not all, youth who participate struggle with writing, the resulting transformations can be profound.
Since founding in 2009, the collective efforts of Story Planet’s full-time staff of four women and 100 artists, writers and volunteers combined have generated workshops that have reached 1,500 children from Scarborough to Etobicoke and been featured in a National Post special. “Alien Chieftess” Liz Haines, a former children’s television producer, was inspired to start the organization after learning about 826 National, a network of writing and tutoring centers for youth across the United States founded by writer Dave Eggers.
Story Planet’s most basic workshop is Alpha, two hours of collective story creation for students in grades two to six; After School provides homework help, reading and writing support and creative workshops with a guest writer or artist for kids in grades one to eight; Evening Workshops offer youth help in producing written materials essential for transitioning from high school to post-secondary, in addition to creative workshops in spoken word and manga comic creation, to name a few; Beta pairs teachers with an artist to create a project around a theme that complements the school curriculum; and Zeta, their longest workshop series, guides youth through the creation of a complete story using different mediums. The final product is then presented in an exhibit, book launch or performance in a community.
From January 28 until March 24, Story Planet will be running the program Art Portfolio Workshop with artist Callen Schaub, who will lead workshops to help students who have a passion for art but have lacked exposure to art classes develop their portfolios which they can use to apply for admission into an arts high school. As well, on January 31st was the launch of an after-school program that focuses on creative writing for kids in grades six through eight.
So the next time you find yourself navigating west of Dufferin on Bloor, park your “space vehicle” and step into the portal known as Intergalactic Travel Authority, the alien-themed café and gift shop whose proceeds are partly responsible for keeping Story Planet in Orbit. Who knows, whilst sipping on your Blackhole Brew you might chance upon the Inner Space, the workshop and office zone where Explorers concoct fuel for the artistic and literary imaginations of Toronto youth.