Devon Elke is a lifelong learner, passionate about supporting local initiatives that take a grassroots approach to affecting radical transformation.
Jackie, SKETCH’s Resource Development administrator, sits down with Devon to discuss what she means by “giving past the point of comfort,” and the moment she decided to become a monthly donor at SKETCH.
Jackie: Before chatting about SKETCH, I was just wondering if you could introduce yourself and let us know a little bit about your life.
Devon: Sure, great. My name is Devon and I am a white, queer cis woman with settler ancestry. I live with my partner of 16 years, and our two high maintenance cats. I’d say I’m very passionate about learning and about extrapolating meaning from my experience. Lately the framework for my curiosity has included things like astrology, analytic psychology, various movement modalities, and qigong practice.
My paid work is leading the Innovation Department for an international law firm. Then in my spare time I also run workshops on communication, resilience and emotional intelligence.
Jackie: Great, thank you so much. You covered a lot of bases! How did you first hear about SKETCH then?
Devon: You know, I was thinking about this and I don’t actually remember. I think I’ve been aware of SKETCH since around 2016, and I certainly recall noticing the offices in the Artscape building when I would be there for different classes and workshops. But I had heard about SKETCH before then, so I’m thinking it was likely through a community newsletter or something like that.
Jackie: And what was your first impression of the organization?
Devon: Well, right off the bat I was moved by the mission of the organization overall. But my first really memorable impression came last year when I visited the SKETCH holiday marketplace with my friend’s daughter, who was nine at the time. And I was just so impressed by the range of talent and the bold, brave artifacts that were on display. It was inspiring to watch my young friend engage with and learn from all the artists at the marketplace.
Jackie: Oh, that’s great. Was it then you decided to deepen your engagement with SKETCH through donating?
Devon: I had made a couple of one-off donations in the past, and that experience certainly deepened my understanding of SKETCH’s impact.
But I decided to become a monthly donor shortly after SKETCH sent out its community letter in response to the murders by police of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, George Floyd, and so many others. I felt that in the sea of antiracist responses that came out around that time, that SKETCH’s acknowledgement and commitment to action stood out as being particularly grounded in deep social understanding and personal reflection by leadership. And it became even more clear to me that this was an organization that I wanted to invest in.
Jackie: I’m so glad to know that SKETCH’s anti-oppression work contributed to your deepened engagement.=
Devon: Absolutely. And I even sent that letter to a few of the other organizations that I’m aligned with as an example of communication that I felt was direct and forthright and comprehensive. So, I think SKETCH did a great job with that response.
Jackie: Speaking of other organizations, do you mind expanding on other causes you support and align yourself with?
Devon: Sure! I’m the Board Chair and a supporter of Volcano, which is an independent theatre company making progressive and provocative performances.
I’m also a monthly donor for the Red Door Shelter. And more recently, I have started to follow and support the work of activist Nanuq Gordon and their efforts through Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction, and other initiatives to send resources up north.
Jackie: Is supporting local initiatives a priority for you?
Devon: Yes. And I would say they’re all smaller organizations based out of Toronto.
Jackie: Great. Was there a point in your life where you can recall becoming actively involved within philanthropy, or was this something that evolved over time?
Devon: It’s definitely evolved. My partner and I have been donors for many years, but over the past few years I have tried to be much more intentional with my resources. This includes a healthy suspicion of larger institutions, including large non-profits and charities, and their ability to effect change. And also working with the principle of giving to the point, by which I mean a dollar amount, that feels uncomfortable. So those are some of the thoughts that are guiding my giving these days.
Jackie: It sounds like what brings all of these initiatives together is this aspect of being grassroots.
Devon: Absolutely. I’m interested in supporting grassroots activism and initiatives where the resources are going as directly as possible to the recipient.
Jackie: What would you say motivates you to stay involved with your community?
Devon: That’s a great question. Certainly my mother has set an example for me my entire life through her community involvement, her sense of social responsibility, and really her consistent questioning, which continues today. I also have a sense that more than anything, it is the privileges that come with my identity that have afforded me certain access and resources. And therefore, I have an obligation to give up, to give back, and to work for the good of the collective overall.
Jackie: I like that framing, in terms of it being an obligation rather than something rooted in paternalism.
Devon: Yes, that’s sort of what I meant when I spoke before about this idea of giving to the point that it’s uncomfortable so that, as you said, it’s not just a virtue seeking exercise. And I appreciate you framing this paternalistic charitable approach, because I think that within a lot of the dynamics and structures of charitable and non-profit organizations, they can sometimes work in such a way that is actually reinforcing the systems that are creating the barriers in the first place.
Jackie: Different arms of the institution?
Devon: Exactly. And still deeply tied to capitalism, to patriarchy, to white supremacy.
Jackie: So, with all of your expertise, both in your professional life and your community involvement, what do you hope for SKETCH looking into the future?
Devon: Well, my hope would be that as an organization SKETCH continues to work towards dismantling systemic racism, to decolonizing its structures, so that from this foundation of equity and inclusion SKETCH can empower and equip youth to shape the future through their art.
Jackie: Yes, engaging young people so that they can transform not only their own lives, but the communities and the systems around them- which you’ve named so clearly. So why would you say someone should make a donation to SKETCH?
Devon: I grew up studying and making theatre throughout my youth and into my 20s. And that practice, that experience, it molded and saved me in profound ways. It offered me a community and a space where I could safely work out my ideas about myself and about the world. And so I really believe in the transformative power of programs like SKETCH.
As I get older, I realize that I know so very little. And it’s the younger people who are leading the way with their creativity, with their activism and with their visions for a more just future.
Jackie: To round things off, do you have any artists who are inspiring you right now?
Devon: Sure. As I mentioned before, I was deeply inspired by the SKETCH artists who I met at the holiday marketplace last year, including OD.IRIS. I’m equally inspired by all the artists who work with Volcano Theatre, including one in particular: Neema Bickersteth, who is someone I actually used to sing with in choir when we were younger in our hometown. And now Neema is this powerhouse soprano and performer. She’s really incredible.
I’ve also recently been moved by the work of filmmaker Radha Blank, Patti Smith’s writing, and a local dancer and activist named Kathleen Rea.
Jackie: Thank you so much for sharing.