SPARC Interviews… Steve Kozinski of Temiskaming Shores, ON

For the next interview in SPARC’s new series, Steve Kozinski offers insight about his experience working with youth in one of the Digital Creator North labs in in Northern Ontario. While chatting with Chandel Gambles, Northern Outreach Consultant, he reflects on his experience promoting and developing new projects, engaging with youth, and exploring the many uses of film for networking and arts creation.

C: You are in the Temiskaming area working with youth. Can you tell us where you are from and what brought you here?

S: I’ve been in Temiskaming for just over a year. I am working as the Digital Creator North Program Lead for Temiskaming Shores. It’s a two year initiative that was created by the Near North Mobile Media, a non-profit organization based in North Bay.

I am originally from Russel, Ontario, a place just outside of Ottawa and I’ve always wanted to be in the north. There wasn’t much of a media arts scene in Russel growing up, so as a kid I wasn’t very interested in the arts in general. But I decided to go to school in North Bay at Canadore College and took television, video broadcasting, and cinematography courses. One of the teachers there, Chris Kosloski, invited me to volunteer at an art exhibit that was curated by the Mobile Media. I did some work with them on different occasions, and after I graduated I learned about this new program they planned to launch in six locations across Northern Ontario. I applied and said I would go anywhere in the North, so they sent me to Temiskaming!

You say you weren’t really interested in the arts as a youth. What’s your perspective on drawing in high-school youth compared to young professionals?

I remember being a teen and thinking how it wasn’t “cool to care”. That changes when you head into college, were the coolest thing you can do is care about as much as possible. Youth are keen to do new and exciting projects, but it may not always look that way from the outside.

Offering the youth a designated space to feel comfortable lets them be themselves and explore new ideas alone and in groups. In those spaces, they don’t need to worry about what others think or where they are in their learning process. They can create projects based on their interests. This gives students room to explore and discover new ideas and art they care about. You’re not asking them to care about something you’re interested in. In our lab, their ideas and art lead the projects. Having a designated space for youth is key to making this possible.

Meanwhile, young professionals want to work on creating new and exciting projects, I know I do. They have just graduated and are keen to take on challenges. Young professionals often go where the jobs lead them, and youth migration is a reality. But if you give them chances to help lead on projects while they are around, you can benefit from the skills they have to offer in the short term – it may just inspire them to access those young entrepreneur grants or arts project grants so they can stay in town!

You are working with youth all of the time. Do you have any insight for our members about how we can reach out and connect with them?

When I started working with the youth, I thought that Facebook was one of the best mediums to connect with people. But as I spent time working with the teens, I quickly realized that “Facebook wasn’t cool” and “that’s where parents hangout.” The youth are on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, so those are the media platforms you need to connect with them.

That being said, I’ve found that it’s through word of mouth, school presentations, and one-on-one chats that you actually make the most initial headway encouraging youth to join new initiatives. Its old school, but it works. It starts slow, but once you get a few youth, they bring friends, and then those friends bring their friends. Then you can use the social media tools to maintain those connections and conversations over the long term.

How did you manage to connect with students in the schools and what new opportunities did that outreach lead to?

I spoke to the principal at one school and sent her a bio about myself and the Digital Creator project. She was onboard, and sent the information along to the teachers, who in turn invited me to come in and do presentations. You always say yes to every invitation, because collaboration, help, and interest can turn up in the most unexpected places. For example, some teachers began designing workshops using my skills and resources in their classes, which was really cool. Going into the First Aid class, which you wouldn’t think would be a promotional outlet for a Digital Creator’s workshop, I was asked by the teacher to help students design a 3D trachea that the students then used to practice puncturing holes. You can find connections to art in the strangest ways possible.

If a person wanted to create a popular new program for youth in the area, how would you go about doing that? What would you want to create? How would you then make it financially possible to run that program in the long term?

I think it’s important to consider the needs and interests of your community when developing programs and events. You need to talk with people. In New Liskeard, I like to reach out to the teens and youth and find out what they are interested in. A lot of the youth in this area want to know about video game design.

If I were to create that project, I would find funding to bring up workshop presenters with professional experience on certain topics, like video game design, to work with them. The cost might be expensive if the presenter were only doing a workshop for us. But if I connected with other interested communities along the route here, I bet we could share the cost. That would also allow many more presenters to come to the area. Creating networks and forming presenter circles really allows your money to go further. I’d like to see communities team up to make that possible, like they do for touring theatre productions.

How have you been able to offer such a breadth of resources and workshops in your media lab?

You have to be open to working with other people. Every single collaboration I’ve worked on has come about by sitting down and having a coffee, or meeting with people online. There are some terrific people in the area to work with, and they are keen to share their skills, like Drew at Good Gauley Productions and Alexander Rondeau. Everyone around here is so willing to participate and they have a lot to offer. That lets us do so much more.


And sometimes the specialized topics students want to cover don’t have resources nearby. I’ve found that collaborations can also occur over long distances. We get artists from Toronto to come up north too. Organizations like LIFT, Liaison International Filmmakers of Toronto get grant money to do workshops in remote communities. The Near North Mobile Media Lab reached out to them over the internet, and they said “hey, we like what you’re doing”. I choose the workshops I want to showcase, and they send up the presenters to do it twice a year. LIFT is a great resource. They say “hey we have the resources, we have the money, and we need to spend it by the end of the year.” They offer really unique workshops that you are unlikely to find elsewhere. They have a mandate they need to fill too, and sending people to the north helps them meet those goals. The only trick is, you have to network. You have to ask around. That’s how you make the best connections.

How would you suggest building your own film community, if you don’t have resources or funding like that of the Digital Creator Labs?

Resources aren’t a big blocking point for film creation anymore. You can make movies on your cellphone and access lots of editing tools online. There are movies at the Sundance Festival that have all been shot on a cellphone, like the film Tangerine. That group has a lot of suggestions about tools you can use. So you definitely have the resources in your pocket these days. You can even send your video content across the world to have it edited.

Your biggest hurdle is getting people to get on board with you. You have to meet like-minded people. You might use social media as a start. Make posters. Go to events. Just talk and find out about other people’s interests. Media is great, but human interaction also needs to happen, especially at the beginning. If you can’t meet regularly, send emails, hash out your ideas. Then start meeting over Skype video and keep everything rolling.

Sometimes a person can’t find others to team up with them on a project. Do you have any suggestions on how to use film and media to collaborate on various arts projects?

There are many way to use your networking tools and film resources to create connections across communities. I recall seeing one woman covering songs on Youtube. She worked together with another Youtube presenter and made online duets, where they appeared in a stylized way on shared video screens. They never met each other, but they created work together online, using side by side screens, sharing audio and music files. Their shared screen video creation looked just as smooth as a “regular” video. Entire symphonies have been recorded and shared online with different musicians recording their work at the same time on separate continents. Some musicians even use tools like Jamkazam to connect. You can even do live shows in one area and have it streaming in other remote communities or local care facilities at the same time. The video and media world is filled with resources to help you break barriers and translate your art ideas across your community and beyond. It really is what the SPARC Translations Symposium theme is all about! Video is the medium of networking enthusiasts and community minded presenters.

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