The Quarters Arts District and iHuman

You are standing on the northwest corner of 96th Street and 102A Ave, in the middle of what will be The Quarters Arts District. The visioning process for this space began in 2006, but the project was put on hold after the 2008 economic downturn. Looking westward down 102A Ave you will see a building with a beautiful, vibrant mural painted on the side. This is iHuman.

iHuman was founded in 1997 by two artists who were collaborating with young people on a creative work called the Gun Sculpture. Over the course of the project, they realized that they wanted to continue to connect with and nurture the creativity of young, marginalized youth, so they asked for more funding and for space to host and nurture creativity.

Twenty-four years later iHuman is thriving as a community and creativity hub in the building you see before you. There are four arts studios on site – fashion, visual art, performance, and music – and over 500 youth between the ages of 12-24 access iHuman every year, 80% of whom self-identify as Indigenous. While iHuman provides free access to services and programs, it is not a drop-in center; rather, youth actively engage in determining their own individual journey.

Mentorship is instrumental in facilitating healing, skill development, cultural connection, and self-expression. iHuman’s Outreach Team of addictions, youth, and social workers help Edmonton’s most vulnerable youth to navigate complex systems such as housing, mental health, justice, financial assistance, and medical care.

Woven Journey is program in which mothers learn parenting skills and develop social networks, with the goal of keeping families intact. iSucceed is iHuman’s leadership, education, and employment program for Indigenous youth ages 18-24. iHuman plays an invaluable role in supporting our community’s most vulnerable, at-risk youth.

A survey of homeless youth in Edmonton revealed that for 60% of them, both friends and music were primary coping mechanisms. We would like to introduce you to Edmonton musician Emmet Michael whose music was built on his trials.

Turning to music in his darkest times, he found solace in his ability to share his heart with others through his lyrics. He invites us in to experience the world with him reminding us all of our shared desires to love and be loved just as we are.

“My name is Emmet Michael, I am an Edmonton based singer song writer, a mental health advocate and a recovered addict. Growing up I struggled with mental health and with feeling like didn’t fit in the way where everybody else did. When I started going to the high school where I didn’t know anybody else, I realized that the easiest way for me to make friends was to drink and use drugs.

Drugs also help me to suppress all of the negative emotions that I felt as the result of my depression and anxiety. I moved out of my house, and I started couch surfing as a young teenager, and I was eventually arrested for a possession at 17 years old. I went to rehab to clear my record. It was while I was there that I started to really pour myself into my music.

Art has empowered me in a lot of different ways. While in rehab, all of these emotions that I have suppressed for so long came flooding back in and I needed to way to channel all of it. Song writing gave me that outlet. It was like a journaling for me.

I’ve always struggled with a lot of anxiety with putting my feelings into words, but I was able to express myself openly in song. I’ve relied on song writing as my main source of healing ever since. It’s taught me a lot about who I am in times when I felt uncertain about myself.

In my addiction, my relationships were almost always based around drug use. And I knew a lot of people we didn’t know each other all that intimately. It’s hard to be real when you’re not be able to face your own reality. I was almost always surrounded by many people, but I always felt alone.

Making music has given me the opportunity to connect with so many people in meaningful ways. Because of my open and honest expression, others feel it’s safe to be vulnerable with me too. And that’s how the authentic connections were made.

I’m able to be received in being exactly as I am, and I receive others the same way. I would’ve never made these connections if I hadn’t allowed myself to be known. I’ve met so many of my friends through open mics and playing shows and in the addiction and mental health community just by having willingness to share my story.

I will continue to share it as often as I can and in hopes it will resonate with someone who needs it and inspire them to share their own story.

As you walk north on 96th Street toward our last stop, you will pass the Edmonton Police Service Headquarters and the Fire Station Number One, the Headquarters of Edmonton’s Fire Rescue Service. Please keep listening to hear some of Emmett’s music. And if you enjoy what you hear there’s a link to Emmet’s Spotify on the Story City App.