Anything is Plausible at The Academy of the Impossible

In 2008, author (A Girl Named Sugar) and former Broken Pencil editor Emily Pohl-Weary put out a call to youths and emerging writers in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood to come build a grassroots writing workshop with her. Held in the basement of the local library branch, and lead variously by guests such as author Mariko Tamaki, hip hop lyricist Mindbender and street artist and videographer Stro1, the workshop series attracted a diverse crew of young and emerging lyricists, poets and other writers. Three years later, from the collectivity and dynamism of the Parkdale Street Writers group emerges the Academy of the Impossible, an educational organization open to anyone and everyone interested in learning something new.
At first glance, what the Academy actually does appears a bit mysterious. Operating less as a formal institution and more as an autonomous space for cultural production, the Academy offers a variety of pay-what-you-can courses as varied as tactical technology, self-defense and free writing. “We teach each other that our dreams can come true, and how to achieve them, through innovative artistic, technological, social and literacy programs,” reads the group’s vision statement.
The Academy is a mixed bag of surprises, not only in the structure of the curriculum but also in the role of the participant. Creative individuals are invited both to take in the information and teach it, turning students into instructors sharing their unique skills and ideas. The purpose underlying the Academy’s unconventional programming is the charm of an open school that encourages self-discovery, creativity and collaboration in all arenas of expression. Just like the Parkdale Street Writers (many of whom participate in the Academy’s programming), students here are not interested in earning titles per se, but are more invested in the collective learning experience and invigorating environment they create with each other every week.
As Pohl-Weary describes in her course description for Street Writers: A Free Youth Group for Toronto Youths: “[participants] become part of a community that will help them overcome their personal challenges and a space that they can consider safe no matter who they are.” In this light, the Academy of the Impossible comes into focus as a fascinating and experimental pedagogical project, one that sets inspiration and community as its criteria for success. (Annie Wong)

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