#yycLCL June 2021

A sketchbook painted with colourful clouds and a paper airplane
Stephanie Banszky shared this photo of her daily sketchbook practice | Photo: Stephanie Banszky

#yycLCL June 2021

To detail my journey of living a creative life, I feel I need to go back… way back…

I was always a crafty, artistic, and theatrical kid, finding new ways to create my own toys, invent new things, and creating costuming out of nothing. As a teen my friends and I would spend hours stitching barbie clothes for my little sisters, baking elaborate cakes, or making doll houses complete with stucco, studs, insulation, vapour barrier, drywall, wallpaper, tiling, and more!

I also began facilitating programs for younger youth than me when I was in Grade 5 and haven’t stopped.

As a group leader, I often would whip together a craft, game or activity for the evening (many times in university I was doing this on the way home) with what we had on hand, inventing a new way to play. In junior and senior high school, I was heavily into theatre as an active participant for Calgary Young Peoples Theatre, school plays, TV shows, and I even started a theatre company with some friends called Mousetrap Theatre Productions. We had one play, which we performed over the year at some community centres and small venues.

After graduating from Alberta University for the Arts with a BFA in drawing, I floundered for a little while, not knowing where I fit into the creative world. I taught English oversees to youth, I taught new immigrants in Calgary. I painted, I danced, I crafted, I sewed, I drew, and I learned how to decorate cakes, but everything seemed a bit of a struggle to maintain as a regular practice and I just saw myself falling behind my ACAD peers creatively and professionally.

My role at work had a little creative exploration when I had the opportunity to design for the agency, plan special events or teach new volunteer’s graphic design; however, it was pretty similar day to day and when I finished the day, I was too tired to continue an art practice at home. Most of my day-to-day work at this time was all about empowering newcomers to share their voice and advocate for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved this part. I was incredibly passionate about fostering powerful community activists and change makers. I grew up with strong feminist role models and was passionate about volunteerism, community development, helping others and advocating for change since a young age, so this was still right up my alley.

To find creative outlets I continued to belly dance weekly, Latin dance on the weekends and volunteered at festivals like Afrikadey. I even went back to ACAD for a certificate in graphic design (to fill the gaps of what I hadn’t learned on the job). Everything was fine, but I always felt like a small part of myself just wasn’t flourishing.

One day, I was at a training with a few of my Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association peers hosted by Antyx Community Arts. Kevin Jesuino (a local interdisciplinary artist) was leading us through some creative facilitation methods to encourage deeper conversations about social justice issues and something in me clicked. What?! There was an agency where I could combine my theatre and visual arts backgrounds together with my passion for advocacy and social justice and be a youth worker?! How had I never heard of them before? This position was made for me! I went home and promptly looked them up, saw a position open and applied. I got a phone call and the rest was history.

A sketchbook painted with colourful designs and a ghost
More pages from Stephanie Banszky’s daily sketchbook practice | Photo: Stephanie Banszky

At the time of writing this, it has been almost exactly six years since that date and I have loved every day. In my time at Antyx, I have had the privilege to work together on a daily with some of the most inspiring, creative and passionate artists from Calgary and around the world. They are fantastic leaders, mentors, and challenge me to be a better person and artist.

Each and every day I get to try new things, pull old skills out of the recesses of my mind, or experiment with new ways of doing things. One day I may be decorating a stage at Beakerhead, pressure washing an installation gone wrong off a building, collaborating with some local artists or an Elder on a mural, or maybe I am learning to graffiti write. Another day I am mentoring teens to put on performances around consent, writing and illustrating a book on food insecurity, writing poetry about covid and being alone, or making anti-racism podcasts and videos. I have made more art in the last six years combined than the 12 years before that. We are always challenging ourselves, learning new skills we can pass on to the teens like coding or break dancing, and trying new ways to go about things.

When COVID halted the world, my co-worker, Alia Shahab, and I had literally been in England until March 17 collaborating with UK youth and art for social change agencies like Doorstep Arts. We made it in before the borders closed and being a creative agency with strong digital skills, my team and I transitioned immediately online with workshops a few days later. We decorated windows to bring joy, danced, made art for seniors and front liners, embroidered messages, created poetry and photo time capsules of the time, sent out art packs, and podcasted about many things.

This year, due to the plethora of online murals and sketchbook camps at work, I have begun a regular sketchbook practice again. My sketchbook allows me to create and explore new concepts, ideas, and just play with colours, textures and lines in a non-precious way. I can also spend 10 minutes in an otherwise busy day on my sketchbook and feel like I have still accomplished something for myself.

I have taken over both my dining table as well as my studio with various visual art, fiber art and costuming projects the last few months. COVID has also allowed me to continue my belly dance practice with some of my teachers from other provinces, states and in Egypt that I wouldn’t normally have the chance to study from regularly. I am dancing a few times a week now and I am prepping many costumes for when we are able to perform back in person again. I also have had more time to get back into my love for fiber art, embroidery, fabric dying and printmaking which hasn’t been able to happen on such a large scale in years. I feel that this year, more than ever, I have had the chance to carry on a strong personal practice outside of my professional nine to five practice and I love how I can just play and experiment without worrying that this practice needs to pay the bills.

Stephanie Banszky is a visual and fibre artist, dancer, community activator, youth leader, craftivist, and social change maker devoted to making social change in Calgary by fostering community engagement and advocacy in marginalized populations. She is passionate about empowering youth with the opportunity to share their voice and make a difference.

You can find her personal work on Instagram at @stephanie_banszky or her day-to-day Antyx projects at @antyxarts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Podbean, and antyx.org.

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