In 2007, Winnipeg police officer and lifelong music fan Kevin Gibson made it his mission to better the lives of youth through music and arts. Three years later, Gibson had the chance to present his ideas for what would become Status4 to City Council.
Councillor Thomas Steen, representative for Elmwood-East Kildonan and former member of the Winnipeg Jets, was a fan of the concept. With Steen’s support, Gibson was offered an empty room in the back of Elmwood’s East End Cultural and Leisure Centre in May of 2011.
Within months, handyman Gibson renovated the small space into a music studio, and began to offer neighbourhood youth free music programs taught by professionals who generously volunteered their time. The transformations didn’t stop there; by May 2012, Status4 had a second, larger room, complete with a stage.
As Status4’s physical space grew, so too did its roster of programs. Today, Status4 instructors teach a variety of instruments, audio/video recording, songwriting and even taekwondo to a rising number of excited participants.
We’re proud to have played a small role in the growth and evolution of Status4 as the non-profit organization received a $25,000 MusiCounts TD Community Music Grant in 2013. Now, with applications for the 2014 MusiCounts TD Community Music Grants open, we’ve invited Kevin Gibson to share more about Status4’s inspiring story and the growth of his organization.
TD Music: Status4 is based in Winnipeg’s Elmwood area; tell us a little about the community and your connection to it.
Kevin Gibson: I have served over two-thirds of my 26-year policing career in and about Elmwood, so a great part of my life and energy have been shared with this community. Elmwood is unique in that it shares all the socio-economic challenges of a more typical urban inner-city environment, but due to its geography, with a river dividing it from the classified inner-city, Elmwood has, for many years, been off the radar for much-needed community support and services. It has been recognized within the last couple of years, so it’s more of a priority, and there’s been some long overdue catch-up support.
When I began my pursuit to develop this organization, I had no idea that I would be offered the space in an old Elmwood community centre, but I am very grateful and proud to have launched Status4 here, and to share the work we are doing with all communities in need.
Did word of Status4 and its programs spread quickly to youth?
I think at the beginning, kids were just very curious and hung around to try and figure out what was going on. Even I had a hard time explaining what I was trying to create as the original room given to me was a rundown, nearly uninhabitable space in the farthest corner away from the kids. While I was doing major renovations and hauling in equipment, the kids saw me come and go in uniform, wearing a gun belt, then other times in my grubby work clothes, covered in paint and wearing a tool belt. To make it more confusing, I’d stop for a coffee break, play my guitar and sing. Maybe they thought I was nuts!
As I started to transform the place, the kids got excited, especially when they’d ask if they could hold a guitar or bang on the drums, and I’d say ‘Of course,’ and let them play around while I was back to renovations. Word seemed to spread at the same pace that I did the work, and it naturally evolved into a steady flow. We now have about 87 kids registered in our various programs, and with our newer programs in keyboards and audio/video recording, we’ll be serving over 100.
What instruments do Status4 youth have access to?
Guitars - acoustic, electric and bass - as well as keyboards, drums, and other percussion. We have youth in all of these programs, not to mention our very popular singing program. Most of the youth had no access to instruments or lessons prior to Status4 so they’ve come to us with little or no experience, but a whole lot of desire and ambition. Our qualified instructors are able to test and grade youth on their instruments, ensuring they are at an industry standard in terms of ability. At the same time, participants get to focus on creativity, and develop the self-confidence to explore their musical expression.
Do Status4 participants often perform in public?
We’ve been invited
to perform at a number of community functions. One highlight was a fundraiser
put on by Spirit’s Call Choir, an adult community choir, in support of the
Status4 choir. Our kids sang, and were backed up by 120 members of Spirits
Call, all dressed in their nice purple gowns. We did it in the Elmwood High
School gymnasium for an audience of more than 500, and it was powerful! [Enjoy
video footage here.] Also, last August, the Status4 youth choir performed at
the national conference for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which
was hosted in Winnipeg. We were featured at the big formal gala. As we walked
out, the chiefs gave the kids a lot of high fives.
How have you seen music impact the lives of Status4 youth?
Through our programs, I have witnessed many youths discover a side of themselves that was always there, but didn’t have a chance to be shown. The pride, confidence, self-discipline, creativity and friendships gained by the youth at Status4 will always be our compass.
Status4 has grown in leaps and bounds since 2011; how did the 2013 MusiCounts TD Music Community Grant support in this?
This grant has been extremely helpful as it allowed us to create our brand new keyboard program, expand our guitar program, and enhance our live performance abilities with new PA equipment. It has also allowed our youth to record their creativity at a standard that would see any musician give a smiling nod of approval. Our programs have always been high quality, but you could say this grant has turned black and white into full colour.
What's next for Status4?
One of the newest programs is our LAVA Project, which stands for ‘Leadership through Audio/Video Arts.’ This Status4 program is in partnership with the Elmwood High School, located less than a block away from us, and it will teach skills in audio and video recording. The kids learn theory in a classroom setting, with a qualified teacher, and then get down to hands-on business with our experienced audio/video producers. LAVA provides a unique learning experience, and will also contribute to an official high school credit. We have barely begun LAVA, and already Status4 has been asked to record both audio and video for a songwriting workshop that’s being facilitated with the Elmwood High School and the Winnipeg Folk Festival. There’s just so much potential. It’s also our plan to develop and expand our online capabilities [in order] to engage youth and their families, including in Northern communities. There are so many communities that have geographical barriers, but technology can bring us closer together.
What advice would you give to people planning to
apply for a 2014 MusiCounts TD Community Music Grant?
Firstly, stay true to your dream and its purpose to serve others; neither of those should be about getting grants. Work hard on your plan, be prepared to see it through either way, and have patience and perseverance. Meaningful grants will find their way to meet and support a shared dream and its purpose.
Status4 - workshop
Status4 - youth programs
Status4 - music and arts-based educational programming
Status4 - Guitar lesson
Status4 - Instructors