Refusing to Jump the Shark, OR: the Thistle was never meant to be an institution.
dear friends, community and supporters,
As many of you may have heard, the Thistle has hit some hard funding cuts this past year. It’s been pretty rough and it has required an administrative dance-to-end-all-dances just to keep us afloat. It hasn’t been all bad though; we’ve managed to do some cool stuff anyhow, like Solidarity Camp during the teachers strike, an amazing public art show at Heartwood Cafe and another run of FARMcamp (to name just a few). But energy and funding at the Thistle has been dwindling, and it means that we are going to close the space at the end of April.
Before we all jump to the front lines and try and save the space, please have a read about how this transition and change isn’t about saving the Thistle space, but about celebrating the Thistle and the ongoing work of youth liberation, friendship, and community.
This is a letter to say thanks to a lot of folks and hey, let’s keep in touch!
The Thistle has been around for 14 and half years, and that’s something to be really proud of. Not one person is the Thistle, so be sure to talk to folks who have been involved with the project, their individual or collective stories will be worth hearing!
The Thistle was never meant to be an institution, but rather a space where folks could come together meet and dream about doing something collaboratively and then do it! And overall, that’s what has happened.
Youth liberation is at the Thistle’s core- an alternative to school. A place to reimagine how young folks can organize and co-create. What blossomed from almost 15 years in this environment, are solid friendships and a community that lives, and will survive, outside the walls of the centre.
A bunch of us at the Thistle think we have had an impact on the discourse of youth liberation and youth engagement in their communities and we feel pretty great about that, too. But more than all of that, what has happened at the Thistle over the almost 15 years has been about the creation of solid friendships and community.
At the Thistle we learn to trust — to trust that kids and youth have the capacity to solve their own problems and to author their own lives, and to trust ourselves as adults and mentors — to learn to work together in a way that lives so comfortably outside institutions. So right now, we also need to trust that this is the time to end this experiment, and that new projects will flourish. The signs are lining up (low participation, funding issues, slowing of momentum), it’s time to be responsive to that and trust ourselves.
A bit more about why we are closing:
Over the past year and half, we have witnessed a wellspring of youth projects starting up: from youth-run collectives, to cooperatives and art projects and it’s been inspiring to see. At the same time, and partly as a result of this, we have seen the general involvement at the Thistle really lessen, which really makes a lot of sense to us. There are less youth at drop-ins, fewer active Thistle pods, and folks are feeling pulled among all kinds of rad projects. In other words, there’s lots going on, and a bunch of it isn’t happening at the Thistle.
This has shown us that perhaps we are no longer needed in the way we were in the past, and have pretty much done our time — after all, everything does end! And to be honest, we wish more places would end when it’s time — but unfortunately we live in a system that values longevity over thriving; and that aint us. Our society puts us in competition with other rad, youth-run projects for grants and funding, and we want to celebrate those other projects by closing up and supporting these rad new initiatives. Youth projects are still flourishing, and doing a bunch of the things that the Thistle has done well in the past. And some of the new initiatives may very well come out of the Thistle and some of the current collective…
We could also “jump the shark” by turning the Thistle into an institution, or partnering with a few institutions to make us stay open. In doing so, we could have enough money to keep it going, at least for a while, but we think that’s not right either and that doing that would ultimately undermine the core of what the Thistle was/is: a space run by youth.
To borrow on a Quakers ethos, sometimes you gotta just “lay it down.” That is, to get out of the way so other, more timely projects can sprout. We are excited to see what will grow in the Thistle’s place when the space closes its doors — and there are a bunch of us who are excited to be part of those conversations!
The space is closing April 30th, but a few of the pods will still be going: Lovable, Thistle Institute and one of the the garden projects. Carla Bergman, with the support of Arts In Action will still be wearing an administrator hat to support youth run projects like DIT (Daughters in Tandem) and ArtQuake, to gain funding and connect to community and so on.
and now for some BIG THANKS!
A tremendously big thank you to Morley Faber, who put up with us in the Mergartroid building for all these years — we sincerely couldn’t have done half of what we accomplished without his support and guidance. Thank you to all our neighbours: in the building, and around the area — it was amazing to share space with you all. Thank you to Arts In Action, and especially, Selena Couture, Verity Rolfe and Claudine Pommier, for always being open to our far-fetched ideas and for signing a lot of paperwork! And of course, thank you to the funders who also let us have a lot of autonomy along the way and supported youth liberation– thank you all!
But mostly, we want say thank you to all the youth who trusted this project and jumped in with all your fierce passions and radical dreams— you all should feel incredibly proud! There are too many to name, but you are all remembered! And a special thank you to all the adults who came in and hung out, offered mentorship, learned more than they gave and were anchors.
Lastly, for a bunch of us we really got to send the biggest shout out and say the biggest thank you to that first crew of youth: Gen, Cole, Jesse, Keith, Leni, Dan, Maggie, and Lauriel, and of course thank you Matt Hern, for having the vision, the imagination and the courage to create the Thistle.
much gratitude to you all.
Keep in touch:
It’s time to move on, but we will be open for a couple more months and there will be lots to do! so come hang out, make some art, help pack and clean the place! And, before we close the doors to that space, let’s celebrate almost 15 years of a project that created a lot of cool things, most of all community! We will be in touch soon about the party.
The Thistle project was created by a group of friends, and it’ll be amazing to see what a new group of friends will create in its place. And so, the space may close, but the relationships and the small projects that grew out of the Thistle project will go on. Let’s not have the walls of a space say who we are and let’s not fall into that institutional trap –almost everyone who has been involved in the project is still around; we have us and all the connections we’ve made, all the projects that have blossomed and all the seeds we’ve collectively planted. And that’s a lot.
see you all in the streets and in our homes.
in friendship and liberation,
The Thistle Community
alex, aly, Marly, Savanna, Sylvia, LeyAnn, Niko, Aliza, Durga, Maneo, Manisha, Corin, Zach, Dani and carla
contact: Carla Bergman- director firstname.lastname@example.org