“If you think about it, art is everywhere,” says Amrit Rai. “From the design of a building to the layout of a flower bed you may walk past, to graffiti done on a fence, to applying make-up to your face, writing in a diary and even taking a selfie.”
Rai is the chairperson of the Youth Arts Council of Surrey (YACOS) and knows first-hand the value of young people being involved in their community.
“It not only helps you become more aware of what’s happening in your own city but it allows you to broaden your horizons for volunteering and opens your eyes to the many other opportunities available,” says Rai. “You just have to find somewhere to begin – and for me that was YACOS.”
Now 17, Rai found out about the organization from an elementary school teacher whose daughter was an active member. She began attending meetings in mid-2010 when she was in Grade 7 and became an official member as soon as she turned 13 (the minimum required age). She’s been highly involved since.
Rai, who’s in Grade 12 at Enver Creek Secondary, has always been passionate about dancing, having studied ballet for 10 years, as well as taking jazz, lyrical, hip hop, character and bhangra dance classes. She’s also been singing since she was a child and is currently part of her school’s Vocal Jazz group, taking to the stage with solos and performing in school talent shows.
She says while adults may be more familiar with traditional art forms, new materials, technologies and social media open youth to even more unique and creative avenues to express themselves and improve the city.
“It all starts with interest, passion curiosity and taking initiative – that’s all it takes for youth to become more involved. Sharing your passions can create beautiful things within Surrey to be shared with more than just yourself. It truly does make a difference.”
YACOS organizes a wide variety of events annually, the most popular being Surrey Shines, an annual talent show for young people that usually takes place early in the year. Auditions for next year’s show are scheduled for December.
Other events include open mic nights, art and photography exhibitions and fashion shows.
The group’s one-act play competition, Write-On, is on Nov. 29, where two aspiring playwrights will win $250 and the chance to have their plays brought to stage.
Being involved in YACOS has also brought an array of personal benefits to Rai. She says it’s not only helped build her character, but given her the courage to speak in front of crowds and better express her opinions.
“I have also gained more confidence, leadership, knowledge on the arts, the ability to give constructive criticism to others and how to successfully event plan.”
There are no pre-requisites to belonging to the Youth Arts Council of Surrey, but members must be between 13 and 21 and live or go to school in Surrey. Meetings are held at the Newton Cultural Centre, 13570 72 Ave.