Growing up LGBTQ in rural Nova Scotia wasn't easy for country singer Drake Jensen, so he created Soaring Eagle Fine Arts Grants to help youth like him who want to be involved in the arts.
The 52-year-old Glace Bay native has partnered with the Rural Communities Foundation of Nova Scotia to support three local initiatives with $1,000 grants announced Wednesday.
"One thing I always wanted to do is help LGBTQ2 people in the arts who have struggled like myself," said Jensen, who is known for breaking down barriers in the country music scene.
Jensen says he knew he wanted to be a country music star at age four after performing Country Roads at his nursery school graduation, but later backlash from the community about his sexuality made it difficult.
Jensen was assaulted for being different, which led him to stop going to school after Grade 8, finally finishing high school in his 40s. The Canadian singer only came out publicly after he toured for a year promoting his first album.
Since then he has amassed a large following by using his music to bring attention to LGBTQ issues.
"I think it's really important for there to be things out there ... that LGBTQ people can resource because I haven't seen a lot of minority grants for LGBTQ people," Jensen said.
Funding for the arts grants is provided from the profits of his new single Rise Again and donations from fans worldwide.
Pop-up workshops in rural N.S.
The MacPhee Centre for Creative Learning was one of the recipients of the $1,000 grants. The Dartmouth-based facility uses art and creative learning to address social issues for youth in the Halifax area. The grant will allow it to expand services to rural Nova Scotia.
The MacPhee Centre has run three pop-up workshops in the Annapolis Valley and plans to host sessions in Cape Breton later this summer.
The workshops involve making protest posters and quilting to honour those who suffered during the HIV/AIDS crisis. These workshops often involve professional artists who are part of the LGBTQ community.
"The goal is to have youth to see their queer elders, adults and folks so that they realize the full potential of who they might grow up into," Courtney Connor, the MacPhee Centre's 2SLGBTQ+ project lead said.
2SLGBTQ+ stands for two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer plus.
"We want to show that adult queer and trans lives are livable in their communities."
Pays for supplies
Connor says the pop-up workshops wouldn't be possible without the grant money.
"We need transit, we need gas, we need art supplies and creative supplies," Connor said.
"We also pay our professional artists facilitators, it's really important to us that we are contributing to the arts economy and that we show the youth across the province they can make a living in a creative economy."
The two other recipients of initial funding are Mackie's Mobile Studio and the Antigonish Culture Alive.
Jordan Mackie, who is part of the LGBTQ community, provides a portable studio to people across the Maritimes to record from their homes.
Antigonish Culture Alive is using the funding to pair up youth with mentors to get involved in the arts.
Jensen says there will likely be three more grants awarded in the fall and hopes to come talk at schools in rural Nova Scotia in the future. He wants to get other notable LGBTQ in the province involved and hopes further fan donations can help.
"This project is really part of my life's work and I want to continue to grow it for the rest of my musical career."
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