In Light of Bell Let’s Talk Day on February 12th, Teddy Wilson and I went to check out a place called The Academy Of The Impossible located at 231 Wallace Avenue in the heart of the Junction Triangle in Toronto. [Watch the clip below]
We arrived at 6:30PM to conduct interviews with Academy Co-Founder Jesse Hirsh and self-named Faculty-Slash-Students, Steph Guthrie and Dan Speerin, before sitting in on an event in their Hacking Reality Program about constructing online vs. real life identity.
If the preferred nomenclature for describing Steph and Dan’s roles at The Academy isn’t enough of a tip off towards how unconventional a learning centre The Academy Of The Impossible is, then let me start by saying that the physical building that houses the Academy is a single, large room reminiscent of a post modern industrial live/work space. It has incredibly high ceilings, walls that celebrate notable Toronto visual artists (ie: Elicser Elliot, Mike Parsons), stacked gymnastic mats, foldable chairs, a kitchenette, stage, sound system, library and, a collection of out of commission electronics including an 8-track player that Teddy took particular interest in.
Of course we were expecting a somewhat unconventional environment upon our arrival, we had, after all, researched and scheduled the interviews days in advance, but what I was not expecting, what one sadly but rarely finds when entering a conventional learning facility, were students exhibiting sincere enthusiasm at being present for ‘class.’ Students were early, greeted us pleasantly, and their eager chatter filled the space with excitement before the event began.
The Academy’s vision description on their website recognizes “the importance of groups that aim to support and empower people who don’t fit into traditional learning institutions and experience barriers to success”, a statement which had initially motivated me to include The Academy Of The Impossible in our discussion about mental health on InnerSPACE for our third annual Bell Let’s Talk Day.
When Teddy asked Jesse how much of a priority mental health awareness was in terms of the programming at The Academy, Jesse said,
I think it's safe to say it's a primary motivator cause we've really found through our work that being able to tell your story, being able to talk about your needs, to express your emotions, is really central to how we manage mental health. And we accept both the preventative approach, that in order to feel safe you need to be able to express yourself, but even when you are lost, even when you are frustrated, we wanted to sort of teach people that you don't have to turn inward, that actually telling your story, talking about what troubles you, […] can actually make you sane. Storytelling as therapy's really central to what we try to do here, it underlies all our programs and it's all about empowering people so they can tell the story that they need to tell.
Courses at The Academy range from hip hop to film to aikido to economics, it even boasts housing Canada’s first tuition-free law school. As Jesse Hirsh put it, “whether it’s creative, whether it’s communications, or whether it’s a way to focus on health, both physical and mental, we’re open to all sorts of programs, and that really speaks to how the impossible is really quite achievable”. We couldn’t agree more Mr. Hirsh, it most certainly does.
To join our conversation on February 12th for Bell Let’s Talk Day, Tweet #BellLetsTalk or share the Facebook Bell Let’s Talk image. Bell will also donate 5¢ more to mental health initiatives across Canada for every text message or long distance call made by a Bell or Bell Aliant customer.