Our Conversation with Deblekha from Access to Media Education Society

July 05, 2015

AMES is a registered charity (est. 1996) based in British Columbia, Canada dedicated to using the media arts to support youth-led community development, encourage peer-based expression and education and promote social change.

Their next workshop, #HerDigitalVisions is a 6-day digital and social media production program for girls, ages 13 and 14, from the Vancouver area. Twelve girls, or female identified youth, will be chosen to work with female experts from the fields of new media technology and the arts to create social media campaigns that will stand up against cyberbullying and online harassment. APPLY NOW by contacting Tricia Collins at PHONE: 778.953.3699 EMAIL:

What is the story of Access to Media Education Society

AMES began in the late 1990’s when a group of creative 20-somethings who were living on Galiano Island and involved in helping start the Gulf Islands Film and Television School (GIFTS) decided to pursue the simple goal of making this type of programming (intensive media production training) available to marginalized youth.

Though there was a lot of diversity among us, we all came from communities that had tended to be invisible or grossly misrepresented in the mainstream media, and we were all committed to the idea of giving folks the tools to tell their own stories and use alternative forms of media to counter harmful stereotypes. In that first year (1997) we ran 5 one-week intensives for a total of 84 street-involved, LGBTQ, Indigenous, of-colour, and HIV+ youth.

It wasn’t long before we realized not only that there was a thirst for this type of programming (one that significantly exceeded our program offerings), but that the work being created had the capacity to go beyond the validation of individual experiences; that it held the power to educate and even activate others. Thus began the move to incorporate the videos that the youth made into various forms of educational outreach, and to develop peer-based facilitation training opportunities to make ‘carrying the work out’ ethical and effective .

As such, from about 1999 onwards, the goal of our programs were about trying to optimize our ‘ripple effect’; creating opportunities for concentric circles of impact that began with the nurturing of individual creative expression and small group collaboration, led to the engagement of classrooms and schools, and ultimately extended to the broader community and ‘general public’. Embedded within this was a lot of personal and collective reflection on things like ‘how to offer critical perspectives on these issues in a manner that doesn’t gloss over the ‘prickly’ realities of power and privilege while maintaining a spirit of creativity and open-hearted investigation.

Since our inception in 1996, AMES has designed 35 distinct community-arts-based initiatives that have provided over 1000 marginalized youth from communities throughout BC and the Yukon with a chance to gather in a safe and respectful environment in which they can reflect on issues of concern to them, while getting a chance to work with professional artists and express themselves creatively.

What value do participants get out of the programs you organize?

The feedback we’ve gotten from participants about the impacts that our programs have had on them has tended to focus on the benefit of:

  •  Getting a chance to be and feel heard/validated/understood.
  •  Having an opportunity to gain ‘hard-skills’ in video production while developing  better personal and group communication skills.
  • Being in a place/space where they felt safe / supported /at home/ “like they belonged”–a rare feeling for many of the participants.
  • Increasing their pride (in themselves, their culture and what they’ve accomplished) and confidence (belief in their ability to complete projects and have their visions come to life on screen).
  • Finding a creative outlet.
  • Being inspired, creatively fulfilled and motivated.
  • Increasing their understanding of the particular issues that the projects were focusing on.
  • Seeing people from their own communities living full, accomplished and self-directed lives as artists and filmmakers.
  • Communicating their visions and perspectives to the wider public.
  • Meeting other ‘like-minded’ youth (ie. creatively motivated individuals who want to make change in the world).

What is the nature of your program and the partnership with SFU? 

SFU has provided AMES with in-kind use of facilities to run workshops and advisory board meetings many times over the years. In the case of #HerDigitalVisions, SFU Woodward’s will be the primary facility in which we will run the production component of this project which will see a total of 30 girl and girl identified participants working with accomplished mentors.

What is the broader impact you are creating in the community?

Many of the myriad networks/friendships that were seeded during AMES programs have outlived the official project time-lines and continue to this day. In addition to using the “AMES-experience” as a model for future collaborations, many participants have drawn on connections that they’ve made during our programs to collaborate with others to accomplish incredible things in the fields of community education, organizing and the media arts.

Another broad based impact comes from the extended reach of the work—through the web, the delivery of workshops in schools throughout the province, film festivals and (in some cases) television broadcasts. It isn’t just the against the grain content of the videos themselves, but the transformative conversations that get generated in the settings in which the work is often screened.

What has been your biggest challenge? 

One of the biggest challenges that AMES has faced, as is the case with numerous change-based not-for-profits, has been funding or lack thereof. Our goal is to secure diversified revenue streams to ensure our organizational and HR health, sustainability and able to strike a good balance between the maintenance of tried, true, consistent and stable programming which also providing programming that is innovative and responsive. We strive to be grassroots and seek funders who support our goals and mandate.


Deblekha Guin – AMES Executive Director and Founder | Deblekha founded AMES in 1997 and has been the driving force behind this registered charity and its development and implementation of a ground-breaking series of fully-subsidized intensive video programs. In the 15 years she’s spent doing community and arts-based project development, Ms. Guin has designed, coordinated and overseen 24 distinct digital-arts community-based initiatives that encourage people from various marginalized communities to self-represent, self-advocate and demystify often harmful cultural stereotypes. Deblekha has her Masters in Communication from Simon Fraser University (1998) and her Honours BA in Contemporary Cultural and Women’s Studies from Carleton University (1991).

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