Photo: Jeannine Pitas


Young residents of Toronto’s Jane and Finch community have spent the last two months engaged in a struggle to bring back the Palisades Media Arts Academy (PMAA), a music and media arts program for youth that was unexpectedly shut down on April 30. “Bring back what was once ours,” read a sign at a youth-organized rally held on June 27 outside the San Romanoway Revitalization Association (SRRA), a community organization which houses the now-closed Youth ‘N’ Charge music studio, where the PMAA program ran for two years. During the rally several young people took to the microphone to raise their concerns.

“I moved to Toronto from Jamaica last September and spent the whole winter coming to the Palisades Media Arts Academy,” stated Kris Gayle, a young jazz pianist who has participated in the program since landing in Canada. “Even when it was 16 degrees below zero outside, I always came to PMAA — I felt like a fish in water. But then one day I was greeted by a sign on the door, changed locks and no information as to why the program had shut down. This is utmost disrespect, not only to me, but to all of the people who have been involved for the past two years.”

This particular program, which was funded by a grant from the Trillium Foundation, provided free music and media arts classes for youth aged 14-29 in the Jane and Finch region, which is still one of Toronto’s most stigmatized communities. “There are so many stereotypes about this neighbourhood,” says Joel Kamalando, a 16-year-old rapper and spoken word poet. “But really, this is a vibrant community filled with singers and musicians — ambitious, positive people who are learning to become future leaders. All we want is some communication about why this has happened.”

According to Stephnie Payne, who is co-founder and executive director of the SRRA, the program — which had been completely free and included a business component in which participants created and distributed their own albums — closed for one simple reason: the funding ran out.

“We were awarded the grant from the Trillium Foundation in May 2011. The program was supposed to run for three years, and it did,” said Payne. “Right now there is simply no funding,” she added. 

The youth, however, have a different story.


“The funding was received in 2011, but the program didn’t start until January 2012,” said Kamalando, “I’m not sure how $344,500 just disappeared from the budget.”

Payne, who retired from her position in April 2013, states that she came back to her job five months later after her replacement resigned and found that the records were disorganized. “It blows my mind that there was no accountability while I was away.” She alluded to some conflicts among staff members and admitted that she did have to return some of the grant money (which had been earmarked for equipment costs) to the Trillium Foundation. “I informed the staff last January that the program would be closing in April because of a lack of funds, and I advised them to inform the youth.”

However, the young people say they were not informed, and they have not found Payne to be forthcoming with an explanation.

“Our emails and phone calls have gone unanswered,” states Kamalando. “At one point I was offered a meeting, but it was cancelled at the last minute. All we want is some communication and transparency.”

The youth have launched an online petition to save the SRRA, asking for four things: dialogue and clarification as to why the program was closed after only two years of operation; a process to ensure that the mandate of Youth ‘N’ Charge is met, making it a “youth led, youth driven” initiative; an effort to bring back the Palisades Media Arts Academy program; and a youth seat on the Board of Directors of the San Romanoway Revitalization Association.

“Outreach is the main thing right now,” says Kamalando. “We’re going to hold more events, and we hope to get more support. And we hope to bring this program back. It was a second home for so many of us — a place to learn life lessons from others. It also included a business component — all participants emerged from the program with their own album and a good sense of how the music business works.”

“PMAA gave me a second chance,” states Steven Rafael Gómez Salguero, a spoken word artist known as Heavy Steve. After a car accident in 2006, he lost his speech and his ability to move. After a long recovery, he became involved in the arts and eventually in this program. “The arts gave me a second chance, but unfortunately, not everyone is so fortunate to have the kind of chance that PMAA provided.”

Payne, meanwhile, says that she is currently seeking funding to reopen the Youth ‘N’ Charge studio. “I’ve worked with these youth for my whole life, and I will fight for them to have a safe haven,” she says.  

The youth, however, are concerned as much with process as results, and their concerns have drawn notice from the surrounding community.  

“This kind of program is extremely important, and transparency is the most important aspect of it. It’s not just about teaching music, but also responsibility and self control,” said Errol Young, an activist from the Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty. “To teach self-control, you can’t be controlling of others. We need to resist this top-down decision-making and get rid of the colonialist control over this community.”

Jeannine M. Pitas is a freelance writer and a PhD candidate at University of Toronto’s Centre for Comparative Literature.

You can support the initiative to save PMAA by signing the petition, visiting the website and connecting via Facebook.

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Original Article:


Palisades Media Arts Academy has shut after allegations that two music teachers lost their jobs for joining a union.

Joel Kamalanbo, 16, right, hangs out at the music studio inside the Palisades Media Arts Academy, located near Jane and Finch, with fellow musician Nathan Baya, 16, and engineer Steve, left. The music studio was closed April 30 over lack of funding, according to a spokesman from the San Romanoway Revitalization Association, the program's overarching non-for-profit organization. However, two former music teachers say the program was cancelled after they joined a union.

Joel Kamalanbo, 16, right, hangs out at the music studio inside the Palisades Media Arts Academy, located near Jane and Finch, with fellow musician Nathan Baya, 16, and engineer Steve, left. The music studio was closed April 30 over lack of funding, according to a spokesman from the San Romanoway Revitalization Association, the program’s overarching non-for-profit organization. However, two former music teachers say the program was cancelled after they joined a union.


A music program that helped youth in the Jane and Finch area record their own albums has shuttered, and two music teachers have gone to the Ontario Labour Relations Board alleging they were fired for joining a union.

The Palisades Media Arts Academy had a recording studio, Apple computers and two instructors who helped about 30 musically inclined teenagers produce original songs, from jazz to hip hop to spoken word.

The studio was located steps from the Jane St. and Finch Ave. W. intersection in the heart of Black Creek, still one of Toronto’s poorest and least livable neighbourhoods, according to a recent City of Toronto “equity score.”

Those who used the studio saw it as a place to build their futures.

“I was working on my music every day, making a beat,” said Joel Kamalanbo, 16, an aspiring hip hop music producer in Grade 11. “I would be there from open to close. I would go into my own world.”

On April 30, Kamalanbo arrived after school to find the centre’s door locked. A sign on the window read “PMAA Studio Closed.”

“I thought it would be temporary thing, but it’s been a forever thing,” he said, noting that he saw movers carry away the recording equipment. “It’s unfortunate because I was getting out there, looking to get my music heard.”

According to a spokesperson for the San Romanoway Revitalization Association (SRRA), a not-for-profit organization that oversees the program, money for the recording program simply ran out.

“There was a funding issue here,” said spokesman Danny Roth. “The SRRA relies on a unique program of public and private funding, and the programs really are dependent on funding for each of those.”

However, two staff members from the music program, Ruben Esguerra and Omar Sanchez, have brought a series of allegations before the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The pair believe they were fired for joining a new union, formed in October, that represents 20 SRRA workers.

“Our allegations, which are all unproven, of course, are that the program was intentionally cut short and these two people were let go because of their involvement in the union,” said Dave Steele, the CUPE lawyer representing the music teachers.

Steele will aim to prove an “anti-union animus” within administration alongside “a concerted campaign of intimidation, coercion and threatening behaviour.” A number of allegations carry a reverse onus, meaning the SRRA bears the legal burden to disprove them before the labour relations board.

“This workplace has been poisoned because of these tactics by the employers,” Steele said. “Our goal is to have the board rule in our favour and for a first collective agreement to be reached and for PMAA to be reopened. At the end of the day, that’s the best outcome for everyone involved. That’s really what we want.”

The hearings are scheduled to begin in September and could last for months.

Asked whether staff members were fired for joining the union, Roff said “I’ve seen comments to that effect . . . but I don’t think it would be appropriate for us to respond in the media. Those issues will be dealt with in the hearing.”

“There have been stories taken and positions by others, but we don’t think it’s prudent to do at this time.”

On Friday afternoon, a group of young musicians performed their self-written tracks at Jane and Finch before marching to the former studio, demanding answers from administration over why PMAA closed.

“We’re really, really lost over what has been happening,” Kamalanbo said. “If it’s about money, if that’s the case, we really respect that. Just tell us.”

Ideally, he hopes the peaceful demonstration will be enough to resurrect the studio, a place where he says he learned about much more than music.

“It taught you about respect, a lot of equity, how to treat everyone properly,” Kamalanbo said. “It was more than just a studio for youth. It was a place to learn about everything.”


Orginal article:

The sudden closure of Palisades Media Arts Academy is related to an ongoing dispute at the Ontario Labour Relations Board, according to one former employee of the program. Ruben Esguerra, the former program coordinator at PMAA, told us this morning that an ongoing legal battle about the formation of a union led management to discipline staff and then ultimately to close the program in April.

Legal counsel for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the San Romanoway Revitalization Association, which was home to the arts program, began hearings before the labour board this morning. CUPE claims SRRA violated provincial labour laws by disciplining and firing Esguerra and others for their attempts to form a workplace union. CUPE lawyer Dave Steele told Derek Rogers, a labour board vice chair who is considering the case, that he hoped to demonstrate an “anti-union animus” on the part of SRRA. None of CUPE’s allegations have been proven before the OLRB.

“After the union was voted in, people who organized it were fired,” Esguerra told us in a waiting room at the OLRB building at 505 University Avenue. “Layoffs were forced, including myself and the instructor of PMAA on April 30.” Esguerra said that a letter from his employer, San Romanoway Revitalization Association, indicated that he had been terminated because program funding had expired.

Esguerra also said the administration created a petition to pressure staff members not to form a union.

SRRA executive director Stephanie Payne was present at the hearing but was unavailable to speak with us at length. “I’ve been too busy to respond to you,” Payne said of our repeated requests for comment on the PMAA closure. We telephoned board president Kevin Green for comment on the allegations, but he was not available at the time of publication. CUPE local 4772 president Farid Chaharlangi was also present at the hearings, and declined our requests for an interview.

As Torontoist first reported last month, young artists who accessed the arts program to record music and receive business training found the doors locked on April 30. They say they have yet to receive an explanation from the board or management about why the program ended.

Former participant Joel Kamalando told us that he is frustrated by the lack of communication. “We tried to e-mail Ms. Payne several times, but she has yet to respond,” Kamalando said. “It’s been harder for me to compose my music since the space closed—I’m just finding any way that I can.” Kamalando and other former participants are planning a rally for this coming Friday in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood in support of the suspended arts initiative. 

For immediate release: TORONTO – June 24, 2014




FRIDAY JUNE 27th 2014 (3:30-6:30pm) at 15 San Romanoway, Jane-Finch


Questions swirl around the sudden closure of a successful and valued youth program in Jane-Finch by a local organization, resulting in a cry from youth in the community calling for transparency, accountability, and dialogue. The organization has not responded to requests from the youth for communication around the closure of a space that is supposed to be “youth-led and youth-driven”. After more than a month with multiple requests for a meeting and not receiving any responses from the Executive Director and the Board of Directors, and having exhausted all other possibilities the youth are now publicly calling for support from media, politicians, community leaders, residents and allies to bring attention to this issue to try and bring back this valuable resource for youth in the community.



  • On April 30th 2014, the San Romanoway Revitalization Association (SRRA) located on the North-East corner of Jane-Finch, suddenly closed the Youth ‘N’ Charge Studio located at 15 San Romanoway and ended a popular youth music program called the Palisades Media Arts Academy (PMAA).
  • In June 2011 the SRRA was APPROVED for $344,500.00 IN FUNDING from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to run the Palisades Media Arts Academy Program (PMAA) for THREE YEARS
  • The program did NOT begin until 2012, and ONLY 2 YEARS of ACTUAL PROGRAMMING WAS DELIVERED before the program was abruptly shut down on April 30, 2014.
  • The PMAA Program was being operated out of the Youth ‘N’ Charge a space at 15 San Romanoway defined by the SRRA as a “youth-led, youth-driven initiative”
  • The youth participants approached the SRRA for dialogue around closure but after over a month, have still received no response.
  • The youth, are taking action to raise awareness around the issue, andhave started a PETITION which can be found here:
  • The youth have also started a WEBSITE/BLOG to help supporters follow the progress of the movement:
  • On May 9th the Youth organized their first rally.  There is a short 10 MINUTE VIDEO that has been created from the first rally:
  • on June 27th, 2014 from 3:30-6:30 outside of 15 San Romanoway, the youth are organizing a rally, the place where their beloved youth space used to be.



Para su publicación inmediata: TORONTO – junio 24, 2014


La juventud- de Jane y Finchconvoca a una manifestación con el fin de crear conciencia y realizar acciones tendientes a salvar un importante programa comunitario.

viernes, 27 de junio de 2014 (3:30-18:30) en 15 San Romanoway, Jane-Finch


Muchas preguntas circulan alrededor del cierre repentino de un exitoso y valioso programa juvenil en Jane y finch por una organización local, resultando en un clamor de la juventud que exige transparencia, rendición de cuentas y diálogo. Dicha organización no ha respondido a las peticiones de la juventud, de que se informe de las razones del cierre de un espacio que se supone es “liderado por jóvenes y orientado hacia la juventud”. durante más de un mes de haber solicitado en múltiples ocasiones una reunión y al no recibir respuesta alguna ni de la Directora Ejecutiva, ni del Consejo de administración y habiendo agotado todas las demás posibilidades de establecer un diálogo, los jóvenes han decidido pedir públicamente apoyo de los medios de comunicación, políticos, líderes comunitarios, residentes y aliados para llamar la atención sobre este tema y así tratar de recuperar este valioso recurso para la juventud de esta comunidad.


Los hechos:

  • El 30 de abril de 2014, la San Romanoway Revitalization Association (SRRA) ubicada en la esquina noreste de Jane y Finch, de repente cerró el Youth ‘N’ Charge Studio, ubicado en 15 San Romanoway, acabando con un popular programa de música juvenil llamado el Palisades Media Arts Academy (PMAA).
  • En junio de 2011 fue aprobado el SRRA con $344,500.00 de fondos provenientes de la Ontario Trillium Foundation para ejecutar el programa de Palisades Media Arts Academy (PMAA) durante tres años.
  • El programa no comenzó hasta 2012, sólo 2 años de la programación había sido ejecutada hasta el momento, cuando el programa fue cerrado abruptamente, el 30 de abril de 2014.
  • El programa PMAA estaba siendo operado por el Youth ‘N’ Charge un espacio en el 15 San Romanoway y definido por el SRRA como una “iniciativa liderada e impulsada por la juventud”.
  • los jóvenes participantes se comunicaron con la SRRA con deseos de dialogar en torno al cierre del programa, pero después de más de un mes, todavía no han recibido respuesta.
  • También han creado un website/blog para facilitarle a quienes les apoyan el seguimiento del desarrollo y progreso del movimiento:
  • El 9 de mayo los jóvenes realizaron su primera protesta, de la cual crearon un video de 10 minutos; este video puede verse en:
  • El 27 de Junio de 2014 de 3:30 – 6:30 p.m. los jóvenes están organizando un plantón a la entrada de 15 San Romanoway, en el lugar donde su querido espacio estaba ubicado.


PMAA Rally on June 27th

Posted: June 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

The youth are holding a rally in front of 15 San Romanoway, the building where the PMAA program was held. RSVP to the Facebook even t for more information

savePMAA Rally Poster pg1savePMAA Rally Poster pg2

SavePmaaPoster side 1                                       SavePMAA poster side 2

Where Did the Equiptment Go?

Posted: June 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

Recently one of the former PMAA participants had noticed that the doors had been re-opened for the space. When they had entered they noticed that all the equipment for PMAA was gone. iMacs, keyboards, mixing board, studio mic and, Etc. The space was not even opened for PMAA but, re-opened for the Tropicana program. Leaving a big question mark in our heads. Where did the equipment go? There has still been no communication between the youth and the administration. Leaving the youth with the big question. What is happening to our beloved studio? The elegant Yamaha keyboard where, participants used to showcase their talent is no longer beside out beautiful mural. The booth where participants used to express themselves is now empty but still has the sign that says, “Recording Booth” on the door. The iMacs and midi keyboards where participants used to work on their beats are no where to be seen. The wall of certificates from students that have successfully completed the program are now bare. The shelf that showcased the albums that were created in that studio are now full of old books that no one probably reads. Where the stuff went? Where did it it go. No one can tell you, only the administration know. Help the youth get their studio back and, get the word out about PMAA by signing the online petition and following us on Facebook.