This year, visual artist Kathy Armstrong ran a DRUMSPEAK!, an African drumming workshop, with youth at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre as part of the Art Place program. She shared her final thoughts on her time in-residence and her experience working with this group of Ottawa youth.
How would you describe your overall experience with Art Place?
My overall experience with Art Place has been very positive. Administrative staff for the project were well organized and available when necessary. The DRUMSPEAK! kids I was working with were just fantastic! Loved the project and felt it was a welcome, important and timely addition to the Ottawa Community Arts scene.
What are some of the most significant things you’ve learned through out your project?
I learned more about our community health care centres and their community developers and the role that they can play in this kind of arts project. I also got a better sense of the particular neighbourhood I was working in and the specific challenges of that area. I have a lot of experience doing residencies but every project is different. There were challenges around focus and attendance but overall the energy was positive, the momentum was good and we built on that.
How was your project a success?
I feel that DRUMSPEAK! was a success both socially and artistically. We were able to complete the goals I had for the project, which was to learn some of the traditional Ghanaian drum repertoire and use it as a springboard for linking language and rhythm, leading to a creative composition that the whole group participated in. The kids really took ownership of the composition, and worked together in small groups which we strung together into a larger piece. They helped each other and took pride in their final presentation!
What do you intend for audiences to see, experience, and think about when learning about your project?
A project like DRUMSPEAK! has many complex elements, and the final presentation was just a glimpse into what we were able to accomplish. However, I would hope that the audience might see some of the process of creating a piece together as we displayed our poster boards where they brainstormed phrases around the topic of CANADA, WHAT WE LOVE and CANADA, WHAT WE NEED! For our presentation, we were able to bring 13 out of the 15 kids in the project, which was amazing commitment. Several kids had family members come for the presentation as well. The kids had rehearsed the logistics several times in our preceding workshop days, and I think that the audience would be impressed with their sense of focus and professionalism as they filed into place and were proudly introduced by one of the girls in the group. We began with some traditional Kpanlogo drumming and singing. Then we performed our Canada composition twice. We wanted the audience to hear the piece with their spoken word phrases and then again with those phrases turned into rhythms on various instruments. The audience might notice that some of the kids had a hard time speaking their part but on instruments it was confident and loud! A project like DRUMSPEAK! gives an opportunity for them to be seen and heard in other ways besides speech. The kids’ sense of excitement and accomplishment in their efforts was palpable in the room, and only partly fueled by the donuts and juice!
Do you have anything else you would like to share about your project or the program?
Having the support of Sandy Hill CHC Community Developer for this project was very important to the success of the program. Gerald Dragon, our community developer, gave regular weekly reminder phone calls to the families and arranged for the bus to take them to the final presentation. The families all knew him through other programs, and were much more likely to participate since they did not know me at the beginning. He also was a very helpful liaison with the space we used for the project.
Click here to read Kathy’s blogs and to learn more about her Art Place project with Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.