Shaping youth through hip hop

Arts, Culture & Heritage

Photo: Performers at DowntownMOVES. Photo courtesy of Graffiti Art Programming.
Studio 393 teaches life skills and builds community.

Walk by the studio and you can sense the energy; it radiates into the Portage Place Shopping Centre skywalk. Inside to the right is a dance floor with people moving their bodies in ways that don’t seem possible. On the left, young people are working diligently on their next hit track.

This is Studio 393.

One of those young people is Osani Balkaran, aka The OB, who has been coming to Studio 393 for more than five years. Mr. Balkaran, 18, is an aspiring rap artist. He’s learned dedication to his craft thanks to Studio 393.

Back when he first started performing, he showed up late to a concert and was told he couldn’t perform.

“At the time I was pretty mad about it, but as I grew older I realized why it was so crucial to be on time. That lesson sticks with me… now I want to be prepared.”

Located within the Portage Place Shopping Centre skywalk adjacent to Hudson’s Bay, Studio 393 is a satellite program of Graffiti Art Programming (GAP). GAP uses all forms of art to promote community, social, economic and individual growth. Opened in 2011, Studio 393 focuses on using hip hop culture to reach young people aged 13 to 28. It is youth-led and provides a safe space to learn and grow.

Hip hop is generally broken down into four elements: rapping, DJing, breakdancing and graffiti art. Each is a form of expression, and a form of art. Studio 393 utilizes these elements to teach life skills such as teamwork, responsibility and commitment.

Due to its central location, Studio 393 is accessible to anyone. You can find youth from all parts of the city here, learning and practicing what they love.

“A lot of people, even though they don’t live downtown, still come to this space,” Mr. Balkaran says. “I think it forms a cool little diversity thing here and I think that’s really important.”

Patrick Skene, Studio 393 Studio Manager, is proud of the sense of community Studio 393 fosters.

“We really do have a special sort of family here,” he says. “Youth spend quite a bit of time here. I’ll see them mentoring or helping others who are newer to things… It’s that sort of attitude that keeps this place really special and vibrant… People care about each other.”

Studio 393 features a rap studio, dance floor, art studio and space to work with film and photography. It’s a drop-in and also offers free workshops. Each year, the young people who attend put on DowntownMOVES in Portage Place’s Edmonton Court. In 2017, the event ran over three days and featured dance crews including the GAP Inc. Dance Troupe, DJ’s and emcees, an art party and dance party, and more.

“People can learn a lot of things from Studio 393… In terms of goal setting, project managing, using time wisely and efficiently,” says Mr. Balkaran. “You can learn about how to become a team player, learn about your community, you can meet people from other communities too.”

Mr. Balkaran hopes to work with and strengthen the local hip hop community, and make a sustainable career for himself as a rap artist. He is currently working on a special EP for Studio 393 that he is mixing and mastering. It includes the collaborative work of local artists along with some of his own tracks.

Studio 393 is shaping our community’s future leaders in a way that is cooperative, educational, and most important of all, fun.

“The present me really likes it – I like being here right now – but I also think future Osani will like that [I was here] as well,” Mr. Balkaran says. “I think it’s important to think about your future and I think that you can also have fun in the present too.”

Studio 393 operates in portage place shopping centre, but its reach extends far beyond that. Here are some other projects it offers.

Wall to Wall

A collaborative project with Synonym Art Consultation that paired young artists with professionals to create murals throughout the city. Mending, a vibrant 60-foot mural located at 782 Main St. that was part of this project, was named the 2016 Mural of the Year by Murals of Winnipeg.

Young Leaders Project

This project employs and mentors at-risk youth to become leaders in the community.

Painted Pianos

A project that saw youth from Studio 393 painting pianos that would be placed all over downtown to bring harmony to the city during the Junos in 2014.

Photos courtesy of Graffiti Art Programming.

Mending mural by Bruno Smoky and Shalak Attack. Photo by Nic Kriellaars.
Former Governor General Michaëlle Jean with Young Leaders and Studio 393 Hip Hop studio groups.
Painted Piano in Portage Place.

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