Community arts create a world where everyone is valued and belongs

The community arts movement and organizations like Art Hives build stronger communities and a more human society. L’Arche celebrates the unique gifts of artists and the community creative spaces where they thrive.

Photo: Community art project made by seniors with and without disabilities, from the Sage and Time art project of L'Arche Sudbury.

By John Guido

Across Canada and around the world, the community arts movement is flourishing. In community and senior centres, in pop-ups and street fairs, and in theatres, galleries, and studios, people are coming together to make art. This creative work can be self-directed, facilitated, or collaborative. The art created can be in a single media such as painting, theatre, dance, video, and music, or combined in multi-disciplinary works. Community arts are leading the way to a more vibrant, just, and inclusive society.

Community art serves different purposes for different groups, yet there are values and objectives common to most community arts groups:

  • Creativity is an essential human activity and every person has a capacity – and a right – to create that must be nurtured;
  • Making art unleashes individual creative expression that may benefit the artist and viewers alike;
  • Working in shared, community spaces promotes conversations, a pathway to mutual understanding and bridging differences;
  • This leads to a meaningful experience of belonging and inclusion for persons who are excluded or isolated;
  • Social change comes about when every person and community is valued and able to contribute their unique perspectives, gifts, and abilities.

There is a valued role for the professional artist within community arts. Individuals who develop their artistic abilities and insights have many skills to teach community artists and introduce them to different ways of seeing the world. In larger, collaborative projects, they play an important role in cultivating the contributions of each individual to serve the whole.

Art Hives: “Building communities by making art”

At their 2017 meeting, L’Arche Community Leaders from across Canada were inspired by a presentation made by Janis Timm-Bottos, an art therapist and associate professor in the Department of Creative Art Therapies at Concordia University. Timm-Bottos’s passion for community art-making is contagious. She has helped found six Art Hives in different cities and does research on how these spaces impact the lives of individuals and their communities.

Art Hives is a network of community art studios in Canada, the United States, and a number of other countries. They are accessible community spaces that welcome people of all backgrounds, ages, and abilities – free of charge – to make art, connect with others, learn skills, and build community together. These spaces are not programmed so individuals can explore their creativity and develop skills however they like. This creative environment generates fresh ideas and perspectives. As stated on their website, “At its heart, an Art Hive is about inclusion, respect, and learning.”

L’Arche is taking part in the Community Arts movement

The Art Hives experience is deeply affirming of the new directions being taken by performance and visual arts groups within L’Arche. While art-making has been an important component of day programs for many years, the integration of community arts practices is re-energizing our communities. L’Arche members making art or performing together experience valued belonging in L’Arche and true inclusion in the broader community.

In L’Arche art spaces across Canada, there is an increased emphasis on making art with others in the wider community such as seniors and children. They are working with professional artists in a variety of disciplines to improve skills and explore new ways of seeing and working. More and more, our art groups are participating in projects with other groups and performing and exhibiting works for the public.

We’re not looking to join the debate about what is art? Rather, we embrace the community arts movement, firmly believing that creativity builds a more human society. Over the next year, we will continue to reflect on the role of community and disability arts, and put a spotlight on the artists, art programs and spaces in our communities as we Celebrate the Gift of belonging, diversity, and inclusion.

Visit the L’Arche Canada Art Exhibition celebrating the unique voice of artists from across Canada.

A Hero Behind the Scenes

Beyond firefighters, medical staff, social workers and police officers, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that there are even more heroes among us. Truck drivers, grocery store clerks, cooks and couriers now rightfully hold an esteemed place in our collective consciousness as they put their health at risk to keep society functioning.

From Hyderabad to Lethbridge Who Would’ve Thought?

After Roop Chittineni finished high school in his hometown of Hyderabad, India he moved to Southern Ontario to pursue a degree in Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo. He liked exercising and thought that if he learned more about the human body he could use that knowledge to elevate everyone’s life experience.

Memory Box: Pinewood Floorboards

What does a set of 1940s floorboards have to teach us about COVID living?

Stepping Up

When Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer stated that non-medical masks limit the transmission of COVID-19, L’Arche Saskatoon’s artsy residents also got to work. Out came the fabrics, scissors, thread and needles. Brock wanted to contribute using two of his greatest assets: his feet.

A Light Ahead

The social distancing caused by the pandemic has been trying. Thankfully, aside from those who have donated their time, money and ingenuity to help L’Arche, there are the health care workers, grocery store clerks and all those on the front line who are helping the L’Arche community get through this crisis. With their help, it won’t be long until the Gathering Place opens again and the community starts making new memories.

Second Life

Kris first met Joanna in L’Arche London, Ontario. She encouraged Kris to join L’Arche, and he did. They lived and worked side-by-side for six years until Kris moved to Nova Scotia. Still, they managed to see each other a few times a year and occasionally called one another about matters of life and faith. But this call was different.

The Gift of Dance

Dance is a profound gift; it’s an artistic expression, a mood enhancer, a workout, a surefire way to impress a date and a form of magic. A dancer can transform into a flower, a lion or their favourite pop star. Above all, dance is an act of joy. (We dare you to wiggle around for a minute and not feel happier than you were before.) The gift of dance, and all it provides, has found its way into L’Arche.

Life’s Tough Obstacles

It was late June. A park in Edmonton had been reserved. Food was stacked on picnic tables. Local students of all ages were dressed in taekwondo uniforms, preparing for their annual Break-a-thon. The Break-a-thon is an innovative fundraiser where martial arts students showcase their skills by breaking boards. For each broken board, donations are pledged and raised for L’Arche.

Taking our place in the inclusion movement

It is an important time for the accessibility and inclusion movement in Canada and the world, and L’Arche Canada is developing our capacity to take our place.

Silent encounter with the “man who repairs women”

Denis Mukwege begs us empathetically to remain attentive, to listen deeply to what is inherent in our human condition: our sensitivity and vulnerability.