letter to TDSB trustees | 30/12/19 | by Benjamin Kamino
I have sent this letter to the Toronto District School Board trustee board chair, Trustee Robin Pilkey, with a request that it be forwarded to all TDSB trustees.
information and contact for Robin Pilkey can be found here: Robin Pilkey
I wanted to share this letter with a larger audience in hopes that more people will participate in staging their voices and thoughts on this issue.
A letter to the TDSB trustees
Please re-consider your decision to cut funding to specialized schools
Please restore funding to specialized programs
Why are you cutting a program that does so much good?
Why are you cutting funding to the Etobicoke School of the Arts when there is so much evidence that its graduating cohorts excel in their practice and take on leadership roles in their fields and communities?
Why are you turning your back on work that is working?
Dear Trustees at the TDSB.
My name is Benjamin Kamino. I am a dancer who grew up in Toronto. I attended Howard Public School and Hilltop Middle School in participation of the French immersion program, and I attended the Etobicoke School of the Arts for my secondary education specializing in Dance. I was then able to attend New York University’s TISCH School for the Arts studying Dance on scholarship and have now recently completed my MA in choreography at DAS Graduate School in Amsterdam.
Immediately following my BFA at NYU I attained a company position at one of the oldest and finest dance houses in Canada, Dancemakers, which jettisoned my career as a dancer and artist in Canada. I am proud to say that I have worked with and maintain a strong collegial relationship with some of Canada’s “TOP” dance artists: Marie Chouinard, Peggy Baker, Ame Herderson, Michael Trent, Aszure Barton, Jennifer Mascall, Robin Poitras, Tedd Robinson, Clara Furey, and Daina Ashbee to name a few. I have also maintained a strong international presence working with the likes of: Martin Spangberg, Xavier LeRoy, Christine De Smedt, Lars Jan, Edisa Weeks, Keith Hennesey, and Collectivo AM. Furthermore my own dance works have been presented and continue to circulate across Canada, Mexico, Europe, and South America. I consider my position as a dance artist who is privileged to show work at internationalized arenas as an ambassador of the Canadian dance ecology. I devote a significant portion of my time and attention to the study, development, and amelioration of the Canadien context for making dance. I love my country for all of its privileges and problems and it is a continuously active choice to stay here and work.
This all began at ESA where my mother taught dance and mathematics. When I was a child my father would bring my brother and I into the dance studio where my mother was rehearsing with her students. I was fascinated by the loud sound of the boombox, the aroma of sweat, the exciting energy of the moving bodies, and the sweet and gentle care offered to me by her students when rehearsal calmed down.
While attending high school at ESA I was given confidence in my body. Colleen Friedman taught me to improvise and by doing so taught me to be myself. When I won the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Emerging Artist Award in 2016 I asked our Mayor, John Tory, to demostrate support for ESA and arts education as I gave the special award plate to Ms. Friedman as a token gift for all she had given me.
The friendships forged at ESA remain my dearest pals and colleagues and are artists and professionals at the top of their field: Noah Reid attended the Emmy Awards this year for his work on Schitts Creek, Brittany Allen (my first girlfriend, and still dear friend) won a daytime Emmy for her work on All My Children and continues a thriving career in film while she breaks out onto the music scene in Los Angeles. Joshua Barndt, my favourite painter, converted his artistic practice into efforts of social justice and now runs the Parkdale Community Land Trust, I truly and honestly believe he will soon be one of Canada’s greatest Prime Ministers.
As trustees you must know the importance of high school. It is the most challenging time of a young person’s life because it is the most formidable — not yet adults while no longer children. During high school I witnessed hatred, racism, and bullying within the student-bodies of Malvern Collegiate, Northern Toronto, and Oakwood. Meanwhile a solidarity of mutual respect and care were values I felt in the halls of ESA. Don’t get me wrong, ESA was no eutopia, we had disputes, fights, police were called, problems were real. However at all times somehow I felt we all knew and recognized each other not as “artist students privileged by special funding” (as I can imagine a criticism from the outside may be formed) but freaks, queers, and weirdos fortunate to find a brief 4 years of relief in which together we would thrive in good company.
My father, mother, and uncle, devoted their professional lives to the TDSB. I marched on Queens Park with them as a child when Mike Harris cut education. I believe I was attending Howard Public School for grade school at the time. It was soon after that I began attending dance classes on my personal time. Thoughout middle school I was frequently beat up for being a “faggot dancer” and yet somehow I managed. Those beatings stopped the day I began my high school education at ESA.
I have been so fortunate to return to ESA annually to teach in the dance department. This year due to budget cuts I offered to teach in-gratis as a support for the faculty and students during a difficult time. I will do whatever I can and as much as I can to support the efforts of ESA. That school saved my life, that school gave me my life, and I will forever be thankful.
I urge you dear trustees. To reconsider your decision to cut funding to ESA (and all specialized programs across the TDSB). I urge you to imagine the care and compassion provided by the specialization of ESA as essential to a system of education. Could you expand your range of specialized programs in a generous recognition of the diverse needs of your studentry instead of cutting funding for specialized programs under the aegis of disarming privilege?
If anything, I ask, could you please slow down and give yourself the time to study more closely the effects of these programs and the projected consequences of their erasure beyond the financial gains in savings.
I thank you for your time.
With love, and action.