Nia Centre Introduces Carnival Arts Program With “Hack-A-Thon”

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Technology and design students at Ryerson’s Nia Center were given the chance to take part in a carnivalesque hack-a-thon, where they were faced with the challenge of having only eight hours to virtually design a full carnival costume.

On Saturday, April 8th, 2017, the Nia Centre for the Arts held the hack-a-thon as a way to introduce their new Cultural Arts Program and draw cultural significance from the Caribbean community. The challenge required the students to virtually design a full carnival costume, including the headdress and wings or backpack.

The idea of introducing the carnival themed activity into the program was done to create an equally cultural and technological filled experience, merging them in a special way. Communications manager of the Nia Centre Stacey Marie Robinson said that the hack-a-thon’s purpose was to merge cultures and broaden the ideas of the students.

“We could introduce mas to maybe a new audience, students, find a way to teach them about technologies and things like that and also involve the Caribbean carnival and kind of let them know about the Caribbean culture,” said Robinson on why they decided to make the challenge of designing carnival costumes.

Connected with the Design Fabrication Zone located at Ryerson University, the Nia Centre held the competition open to all design students across the province. The sixteen participants were divided into groups of four, competing for a special bursary prize. The competition proved to be a great way for students to learn about the culture of the Caribbean carnival.

“We kinda just took it one step further and said okay, let’s look at the experts in the city, and then that brought us to Ryerson and they have their fashion zone and the Design Fabrication Zone, and they’re doing like crazy things over there with technology and it was just like a perfect match,” said Robinson on how they gathered the foundation to make the competition happen.

The students showed great enthusiasm in creating the costumes, as they let their design ideas flow through from their brains through to their computer screens.

On actually turning the costumes into a reality Robinson said, “Because the students were so into what they were doing, again this is a first time even getting into costumes or hearing about it, they were kind of thinking we’ve done all this work, we’d like to continue.”

She hopes that the designs created from the competition can be made into actual costumes, even though they may not be sported at this year’s Toronto Caribbean Carnival.

“We thought it would be a good idea maybe to fully design some of these new concepts, not really to go on the road, but maybe just to present it,” said Robinson.

The theme of the collection of costumes created at the Nia Centre is named “Chrysalis”, and the theme of the student event itself was “Organicism in Costume Design.” This theme was coined by the managing director of the Design Fabrication Zone (DFZ) at Ryerson University, Tom Bessai. The students hope to turn their work into a reality for display sometime soon.

During the eight hours, they worked vigorously to achieve the perfect designs, just barely taking a lunch break for some jerk chicken with rice and peas. “They didn’t even want to stop. They were going from morning straight to evening,” said Robinson. “They picked up the lunch and they like ate while they were working.”

Around 4 pm the judges halted the competition in order to analyze the work done so that they could choose a winner for the bursary.

“We’d like to bring the Caribbean culture into it as much as we can,” added Robinson on the fact that this surely won’t be the last activity or competition held by the Nia Centre displaying the Caribbean culture using technology.

She assured that because of the high volume of arts emanating from the Caribbean this surely isn’t the last project of it’s kind. “It’s a black arts center, but because we have a Caribbean background, we figured there’s a lot of art that we could talk and teach and work with all year around.”

“Because we now started the Carnival Arts program, we’re hoping to continue it.”


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