Phyllis Novak, Artistic Director, Sketch

At the beginning of the year, we all take stock of our lives and think of ways to change for the better. We look at how far we’ve come and start thinking about where we’d like to go. To salute the season of resolution-making and restock-taking, we’re highlighting women with careers that give back. Whether they’re helping out overseas or right here at home, for the next few weeks we’ll be celebrating women giving back to their communities.

Phyllis Novak is the artistic director of Sketch, a Toronto art studio for street youth. http://www.sketch.ca/

What does a typical Thursday look like for you, starting from when you wake up – to heading to bed?

Short answer: there are no typical Thursdays. I try to just ‘show up’.

Long answer:

There are really only a few tiny typical things early on Thursday mornings. Otherwise none of them are the same. The day is directed by how the community development winds may blow. Here’s the skinny: I rise to the sound of my 7 year old tripping across the living room floor to the bathroom and then his running back into bed so that I practically have to pry him out in order to get to school in time. We wrestle through the mundane and yet stress inducing choreography of getting dressed, getting our lunches, brushing teeth, loading up the car and taking off. After the drop off for school and the subsequent well wishing that I do out loud and in my head that nothing harm-filled would befall him that day and “Oh God please make him a change agent and a sensitive man”, I take a few deep breathes and start to run through what’s expected of me that day by no one other than myself and weighing it against what I can actually accomplish given the environment I will enter shortly. I muse a little about what feels like it’s stirring, inspiring or disturbing me with what I notice around me or what is just plain old me deep down inside.

I get to SKETCH downtown, which is this Alice in Wonderland – underground version – of a cross-discipline studio play space of 6000 square feet. As I get my water boiling for tea or dash out for a coffee I walk through the hall picking up garbage and dishes and bits from the creative festivities of the day before, I greet my co-creators and rebel rousers as I pass or even take a few minutes to share various short stories in our collective attempt to connect with each other personally despite what may lay ahead.

I confess that what follows often feels like a cross between a not-very-well-thought-out reality TV show, a musical, a civics class, a family reunion and a Tupperware party. As the studio opens various community members enter to either take care of preparing the meal that day or the studio space that day. I check in with my emails amidst the morning greetings to refine my to do list that started on the way in.

The day is its usual flurry of crafting, music making, cooking, cleaning, arguing, painting, sewing, hammering, sawing, laughing, organizing , etc. I meet with youth who are leading projects or want to start various community initiatives. I might take a call from Arizona or somewhere that heard about us and wants to start their own brand of SKETCHiness in their own communities, so we’ll talk about the process.

I prepare for meetings if I have them with youth, partners, funders, artists, entrepreneurs, policy makers, etc. I write proposals or reports on what we’re up to for funders and partners – seeing them as fraternal explorers in this quest we all have to see some change happen to make the world a more equitable place. I make frequent visits to the studio and participants thankfully feel perfectly comfortable interrupting me. Keeps me in touch with what’s happening. I step in if someone needs support for something, staff or participants. I feel that all day, I’m involved in story-making and story telling.

I go home after it’s all over and try to reflect a little on what the day brought. Then I sup with my family, chill, read, laugh or watch a good movie. Sleep comes nicely at around 11pm.

What was your first job out of school?

I had a part in a play at Huron Country Playhouse, a Summer Theatre in Grand Bend.

What are the 3 skills you require most to do your job well?

Innovation, Humour and Tenacity. Tiny bit of complete quirkiness or love for the ridiculous helps as well.

What do you love most about your career?

I didn’t really think of it as a career until now. I guess I love the fact that it is ever changing, it challenges me and brings me joy. I like that fact that I’m not very good at it so I always needs others around me to help me do my job well. I like learning and appreciate that I’m in a place where mistakes are viewed as opportunities to start fresh.

Do you have any warnings?

Beware of people being way more than what you may see them for.

Beware of the unstoppable force of LOVE.

Always leave one full car length between you and the car in front of you because if you hit him, you will always be at fault. Even if the guy in front of you is driving way too slow or stops suddenly.

If you could try a different career on for a year, what would it be?

Without question I would work in a greenhouse. What is that career called: a Greenhousist? I just love being in greenhouses and working with plants and flowers.

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