March 31, 2016
What changes did you notice in the participants through the course of your workshops?
Throughout the Expressive Art workshops participants have all experienced changes, some subtle and others quite profound. The art experiences have all participants examining the way they see themselves, as a cohesive group and within their community.
It has been an honour to hold a sacred space for these young people as they navigate through their lives, learning new ways of coping and thinking about their beliefs of themselves and others.
In one storytelling workshop I first asked them to write the answer to this question “If you could have anything you wanted happen in your life next week, what would it be?”
The stories all contained their hopes and dreams coming true and we explored what the stories meant to them.
The next part of the writing was to answer the question “This will affect me by….” And again we explored the positive responses contained in their stories.
The final question was, “This will affect others by…” This is where the light went on for many. It was illuminating to recognize our perceived fear of others opinions and possible actions if we followed our dreams and that these fears may be holding us back from moving forward.
This is personal introspection realized through the processing of the art creation and helps individuals grow and change a way of thinking. Now that is life changing.
What issues are the participants voicing through this artistic expression in their participation in Art Place?
Our group is made up of Inuit, First Nations, Métis and non-indigenous youth making for a wonderful mix of cultures and backgrounds.
Some have been brought up in an urban setting within culturally diverse families, while some are from remote communities and have lived a more traditional life. What each of these participants have in common are the multi-generational impacts affecting many Indigenous People in Canada as a result of assimilation policies such as residential schools, loss of land, culture and loss of language etc. as clearly articulated in the Truth and Reconciliation Report. Many are only learning of the multi-generational socio-economic impacts of these experiences on their families and themselves.
In tandem with these social impacts, many Indigenous cultures come from a nomadic, highly structured community tradition and many of the critical practices needed to ensure personal and community survival are still very much a part of our cultures today. One of these survival strategies is a limitation on personal expression of emotional pain.
It is easy to understand why this would have been important, as a small nomadic community’s first priority was physical survival. If each person continually expressed their emotions, the stability of the group could be compromised and hence survival also at stake. This is a practice that is very much part of the fabric of life to this day, even though its usefulness may be past.
With these influences it is easy again to see why it may be incredibly difficult for some to express emotions using a talk therapy approach to healing. Combine this with the rich artistic traditions of Indigenous People; from storytelling, to ceremony to every form of artistic expression, once again it is no surprise that art would be an easy non-verbal way of processing emotions.
The impact of these factors was illustrated in another Expressive Art workshop.
On that day we focused on individual and community change by collectively completing a visual roadmap. Each participant was given several sections of a road for their visual representations of specific questions. The first visual was a representation of what they did not like about the society they lived in.
Each person’s visual representation of this question illustrated some of the darkest aspects of society, but most visual representations reflected common societal realities such as greed and capitalism.
However, all the art experiences are designed to help participants move through troubling reflections by always providing a strength based empowerment opportunity to conclude the artistic exploration. In this way not only are participants able to see their art reflecting their own abilities to create change but also their common strengths as a group to create change.
Every participant had a very personal experience when creating their art allowing them to explore where they are right now and what they are feeling. This self exploration results in healing and growth.
When there were no words, there is art, when there is art; there is expression, when there is expression there is healing. This is the power of art to create change.
How are these art sessions contributing to a broader context of ‘art for social change’?
The program of workshops I have designed are specific to providing opportunities to explore various artistic media such at music, storytelling, visual art, poetry, multi-media etc. while eliciting personal change through revelations contained in the art. In conjunction with personal change, each session also contains an opportunity to explore personal impacts on community.
As an Expressive Art Practitioner, I do not interpret the participants’ artistic expression but facilitate their own interpretation and eventual revelation.
My goal is to help each individual discover their own internal capacity to create their personal healing, at their own pace, comfort and within a secure and safe place.
This healing journey through art first starts at the individual level and then expands to impact the families and communities of each person.
So art for social change happens first within the individual and their community nucleus, eventually having a natural impact on the communities people live in. However, throughout each workshop and within each art medium we examine how their art can create change specifically in the broader community.
Each of the workshops, no matter what art medium is being explored, begins with a personal exploration and ends with an exploration of the impacts on their community.
As the group has progressed, several common themes have emerged in their art and it is so amazing to see their surprise when they realize their commonalities, from personal perceptions to community concerns.
These themes are forming the incubation of the collaborative art for social change project. As they get closer to a final design, one thing is very clear, each participant wants to help their community have an experience that will change them also.