Meshing art and social change
Frustrated by a 40-year downward trend in youth voting, Concordia alumna Ilona Dougherty, BA 03, and two friends, Mackenzie Duncan and Paul Shore, decided to undertake a campaign to get their peers to vote in the 2004 Canadian federal election.
Within four months of launching their project, their efforts were so effective in engaging youth that they formed a charitable organization, Apathy is Boring, which continues to thrive today.
With Dougherty at the helm, Apathy is Boring has grown from a single media event into a successful youth-led organization. It gives young people the tools to engage in the democratic process and helps them to recognize opportunities to have their voices heard.
How do they do it? Through art and technology. Working with more than 60 Canadian bands and musicians as ambassadors for change, Apathy is Boring provides opportunities for youth to register to vote at concerts and festivals across the country.
Beyond the political process, Apathy is Boring has partnered with organizations such as Canada World Youth and the Canadian Parks Council to engage youth as decision-makers.
“Building community is a huge part of what we do,” says Dougherty. “When youth are engaged in their community, they are more likely to recognize inroads to being heard and, as a result, participate more fully in such processes.”
Engagement is something that she knows first-hand. At age 17, Dougherty served as a Canadian delegate to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development.
This experience came out of her three-year involvement with the Canadian Environmental Network, where her natural leadership qualities took over and she led regular youth-engagement activities.
At the same time, having been involved in the arts community since childhood, Dougherty participated in MAD, an intensive music, art, dance and drama program at the Yukon Arts Centre.
Today Dougherty continues that community involvement at Concordia, where Apathy is Boring is working with the university’s Multi-faith Chaplaincy to promote another kind of civic engagement, a dialogue around different faiths.
With support from the Inspirit Foundation, Apathy is Boring and the chaplaincy have created a program — called the Community Connections Series — to help youth talk about what it means to be engaged with certain faith communities.
This experience reminds Dougherty of her own time at Concordia. “I was always involved in the arts and realized at a very young age that I was interested in environmental issues. Concordia gave me the opportunity to explore both the arts and public policy,” she says.
She particularly recalls the support of Ellie Hummel, Concordia’s ecumenical chaplain and coordinator at the chaplaincy. Dougherty appreciated having the space the chaplaincy provided to reflect.
Coupled with the student-led spaces Concordia offered, that really helped her to think creatively, an important quality that has helped her many times since in finding solutions to problems. Recalling her reason for choosing Concordia, Dougherty says, “Everything that I wanted to do with the intersection of art, social change, and youth meshed together through the personal touch Concordia gave me.”
• Apathy is Boring
• Concordia’s Multi-faith Chaplaincy
• Inspirit Foundation