Interview with Joy Lapps

Guest Post: Latoya Joy Lapps

January 2015

In September 2014, Toronto Arts Council’s Artists in the Library program was launched in partnership with The Toronto Public Library to increase opportunities for arts programming in local communities outside the downtown core. The program placed artists in five libraries for 3-4 month residencies. Over the course of their residencies, the artists and arts groups led workshops, taught classes, and collaborated with the community.

Here is an interview that was conducted by Diana Lee, a Librarian at Downsview Branch. It features steel band artist Latoya Joy Lapps, who discusses her experience being an artist-in-residence at the library.

Click HERE for more information on Toronto Arts Council's Artists in the Library program. 

Latoya Joy Lapps


What interested you about the Artists in the Library residency?

One of my mentors forwarded me an email from the Toronto Arts Council in which they announced a few new granting programs. I decided to apply to the Artists in the Library program because it allowed me to engage the community by offering free lessons and workshops as well as provide performance opportunities for other professional artists.

What was it like teaching people how to play steel pan in the library?

I loved teaching people how to play steel pan in the library. It was a really enriching experience for me. Community arts is such an interesting field, no matter the artistic discipline. Especially with the way the program was organized, as the teacher, I never really knew who I would be getting in my class. When I would teach at summer camp, I would typically get an entire file about each participant. I’ve dealt with children and youth with different disabilities, personality disorders, allergies…you name it. And then as a teacher I get to adjust and find ways for each participant to feel included. But at the library I had no idea who I was dealing with. The registration required a name and a phone number at best.

In situations like this, you have a bunch of people who you don’t know anything about. You don’t know where they come from, what their life experience is, what they may be struggling with, if they were able to eat that morning, what their family life is like... and all of these things affect us as humans. They affect how we interact and communicate with people especially strangers. I love working with people and I like to be challenged. I love to make people feel included and feel like they are a part of something.

Photo by Larnell

What were your favourite moments during the Artists in the Library residency?

I had a lot of amazing moments at the library during my residency. One of my favourite moments was seeing how the music in the library drew people in. Almost every time I taught a lesson, patrons in the library were drawn to the story room where I was teaching. I always loved to see how the children and toddlers enjoyed the music.

The story room was right beside the children's book area in the library. Toddlers would run away from their parents towards my programming room because they loved the music. Or I would see parents holding their children as they peered through the window of the room. I always had an "open door" policy for lessons and rehearsals. As long as patrons weren't disruptive, they were allowed to come in and watch what we were doing.

In the morning before our final performance I was rehearsing with the string quartet and the percussionist. There were two older men looking through the window so I told my husband to let them know they could come in and listen. They stayed for a while and listened with such joy and appreciation. Eventually they decided to make a party out of it and went to Pizza Pizza and ordered a large party pizza for everyone. The pizza was large enough to share with the musicians, the youth that were helping to set up and a few other random visitors who came to observe the rehearsal.

I was most proud of the youth and their level of engagement. They committed to attending classes twice each week. I was able to award them volunteer hours for assisting me in facilitating the family classes. They also helped with almost every aspect of each performance including setup, tear down, preparing refreshments and cleaning up at each performance. They also assisted musicians and décor specialist with moving their equipment in and out of the library. One of the challenging parts of my residency was setting up and tearing down all of the instruments used for the classes. This had to be done twice each week. Depending on the time of day I had to do it alone, which took about an hour each time. But when they were at the library on Friday afternoons, they would help me set up for my Saturday morning classes. It was also great to see their friendships flourish as they spent more time together. In my family class, it was so beautiful to see how the moms especially connected with their children and with the other parents in the class. I also had a few couples in my adult class as well as a mother/daughter duo. Overall, I was able to watch in amazement as relationships were strengthened through music.

What is your advice for people who want to learn how to play steel pan?

People who are interested in learning steel pan can contact some of the local steelbands. AfroPan, Pan Fantasy and Souls of Street Orchestra are some of the local bands that offer lessons throughout the year. Many of the TDSB schools also offer steel pan as a part of the curriculum and through afterschool programs. I always encourage parents to check the local schools and community organizations to see what arts programs they can access for their children and for themselves.

If people missed seeing you at Downsview, when is your next performance, program or event?

People can visit my website at to find out about future events.

Thank you Joy for the interview and for the wonderful program at Downsview Library earlier this year!  


Joy Lapps has performed at festivals including Toronto's Afrofest, Muhtadi’s International Drumming Festival, and Antigua’s Moods of Pan Festival. Her primary instrument is the soprano steel pan. Joy has released four recordings and the self-titled EP Joy (2013). She has been nominated for a Harry Jerome Arts and Media Award and the Caribbean Music and Entertainment Award. Joy is founder of Steel Pan Experience, offering workshops and presentations to schools and communities across Toronto.

This interview was originally published on the York Woods District Blog: Click HERE to visit the page