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Molding clay (and young minds)

February 5th, 2018

Woman stands next to a table of small ceramics

Artist Ness Lee standing next to some of the small ceramics made at the AGO. Image by the AGO

Some of the coolest programming at the AGO is FREE! That’s right, zero dollars required. FREE After Three provides free programming for visitors ages 14 to 25 in our Weston Family Learning Centre (WFLC). Local artists facilitate the programs, which range from tie-dying and screenprinting to skateboard building and breakdancing and a million things in between. Artist facilitators include Paddy Leung, Alicia Nauta, Kendra Yee, as well as teens from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) alternative school Oasis Skateboard Factory and youth from Unity Charity.

We wanted to find out more so we spoke to illustrator and artist Ness Lee, who is facilitating a clay and ceramics workshop where young people can learn techniques to make pinch pot piggy banks, geometric vessels, brooches and much more. Lee has exhibited her work at galleries here in Toronto and around the world. She continues to explore her practice using a wide range of media, including ceramics, drawing, painting and mixed media sculpture.

AGO: How and when did you first get involved with the AGO’s FREE After Three programme?

Ness: We connected through one of the FREE After Three programs! I met Sarah (Febbraro, AGO Coordinator for Youth and Family Sundays programming) during one of my friends’ FREE After Three classes and kept in touch, brainstorming ideas for the Clay and Ceramics class.

AGO: What is it like teaching and creating with young people? How do you think it impacts you and your art practice?

Ness: It’s such a sensitive and vulnerable experience to teach and create with others. Doing so constantly reminds me how wonderful it is to express yourself, to tend to your curiosity and experience the journey of it. I think it seeps into my practice in ways where I feel like I can try and create what I want to despite my apprehensions and fears. Seeing how many students allow me into their space and open up to me creatively lets me do the same.

Small ceramic bowls with portraits inside.

Over twenty colourful small bowls in green, blue and red with images of men and women created by artist Ness Lee. Image courtesy of the artist.

AGO: Has there been a personal highlight of working with the FREE After Three programme?

Ness: The personal highlight for me was creating bonds with other curious minds – the consistency in attendance and the amount of people that attended always blew my mind. I’m so grateful to be able to meet everyone and see what they create with their moments of learning.

AGO: What do you think young people that participate get out of it?
Ness: I feel like they get an opportunity to experience a new page in creation. Things like ceramics are often hard to come by and most often not very affordable, so it’s so nice to be able to be a part of providing that. I also think it’s nice to have a meeting of minds once a week; it forms a community of sorts and, as an attendee, makes you feel comfortable knowing that there are others just as interested in exploring as you are.

AGO: Why is it so important to offer accessible art programmes like this to youth?

Ness: It is so incredibly important to do these art programmes with youth because it perpetuates the idea of potential and expression. I feel like there are pressures in life to do or be something. To be able to open the mind and let it tap into another way of communication, through art for instance, is something I feel is worth exploring and nurturing. Art sometimes is not accessible for many reasons and it can make one apprehensive to even entertain the thought. To have these programs available is wonderful to nurture community, the mind and soul.

AGO: Is there anything that you’re currently working on outside of FREE After Three you’d like to share with us?

Ness: I’m currently working on my solo show!! I’ll have some larger pieces, ceramics, drawings and feelings. Please come if you are free on March 1st at Project Gallery.

AGO: Where can we go for more information about your work?

Ness: nesslee.com! For more up-to-date things, my Instagram is @nessleee.

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