Coordinating conspiracy theory cover-ups serves as a backdrop for an exploration of how a diverse cast of characters navigates the world. Photo credit: Jam Filled Entertainment

Cartoons aren’t just for kids, and animation genres and audiences are more diverse than ever. This has required animation studios to evolve not only what they are doing, but also consider who is doing the work.

When Covid shut down live action production in 2020, this sparked a huge demand in the animation industry to recruit and develop talent, and to ensure that the artists could reflect diversity authentically in their productions.

For some would-be animators, enrolling in a program that has a scholarship or bursary attached can offer the possibility of support – financial, internship, mentorship – that they need to confidently pursue their dreams of graduating and working in the industry.

The owners of Jam Filled, an Ottawa animation studio, are doing their part to give Algonquin animation program students a welcome boost of encouragement with their new scholarship program targeted at improving diversity within the animation industry, beginning with students themselves.

The scholarship is intent on supporting students who self-identify as diverse, with a special focus on ethno-racial and Indigenous identities, gender and sexual identities, place of origin, age, and ability.

The inaugural Jam Filled Diversity in Animation Scholarship (JFDIA) for Algonquin College was awarded to second-year animation program student Maïta Mutonji. When asked for a story on the AC blog, Mutonji pointed out that there were very few students of colour enrolled in the program, and that she felt that this kind of scholarship opportunity would be “a boost” and encouragement for more students with diverse backgrounds to apply.

The idea for the JFDIA scholarship was born out of a reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests and Blackout Tuesday on June 6, 2020. Creative culture manager of Jam Filled, Mike Hunter, said the studio leadership team asked themselves, “What can we do to improve things and contribute to improving diversity in our company and our industry? Something tangible, not just a post or whatever.”

This scholarship gifts financial aid and professional mentorship to recipients starting in their second year, and continuing through to program completion. It offers not only tuition support, but also opens the door to mentorship with industry professionals.

“We hope to improve and create opportunity for people who are underrepresented in the industry,” said Hunter.

Ultimately, however, the art has to speak for itself. During the selection process for the scholarship, and even when hiring new talent, Hunter says that it is the quality and calibre of the art that determines which applicants are considered, and this is why encouraging diversity of new artists is key to evolving the industry.

The scholarship is only one way that Jam Filled is making a tangible difference. Members of their team have been heavily involved with the animation program advisory board, contributing their expertise to inform the curriculum, which leads to students being more “studio-ready” when they graduate.

When asked what the organization sees as the longer-term benefit of their commitment to student success, Hunter had this to say:

“The best outcome is we grow. We get stronger artists coming out of the College. We get stronger diverse artists coming out of the schools and the feeding systems, and hence strengthening the industry. That’s what we hope.”