Building Community through Art Discovering our Creative Potential

By John Guido

When you enter Hearts and Hands in a repurposed house in the centre of this college town, you step into another world. Everywhere you look there are musical instruments, art supplies and materials, and arts and crafts in every imaginable medium – and some you couldn’t have dreamt of. The people you meet are sure to welcome you, ask your name, and take you to meet others and show you some of the paintings, weaving, pottery, paper-making, etc. in the warren of rooms. If it’s Wednesday morning, you will be invited into the drumming circle – no experience or rhythm required.

If you’re like me, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer variety of people, artworks, and activities. Yet before long, you discover order in what appeared to be chaos, calm within the whirlwind of activity. Whether working as a group on performance or a project for a local art show, learning new skills from a local artist, or working on individual projects, everyone is focused on making art in an atmosphere of mutual encouragement, support, and respect.

Two men drumming

A space for creative expression

Our mission is to promote creative expression, which foster journeys of self-discovery, self-expression, and self-promotion.

Hearts and Hands welcomes people with and without disabilities, from the L’Arche community and from the wider community to express themselves creatively. It’s a space free of judgment that allows each person to explore, discover, and develop their creative capacities in a variety of media. Here is what some of the artists – with and without intellectual disabilities – have to say about the experience:

  • Daniel says, “I like to paint… waves… It feels happy.” He’s clear about why he likes coming to Hearts and Hands, “I want to be here. I do my own thing.”
  • Elizabeth loves to be “outside” and she draws scenes of people enjoying the snow or the sunshine. Her paintings often reflect her emotions – full of clouds when she’s having a hard day, and sunny when she’s happy. Now that she’s in her 50s, she doesn’t enjoy the cold so much, preferring to stay indoors to paint.
  • Carlo says, “I had no idea that deep within me there was a drummer who loves to speak and communicate to the world with just a beating action. No speech or conversation necessary. Hitting a (drum) … appears primitive, rhythmic, repetitive, monotonous – like in a trance or in meditation. Without speaking, the drum gives all of us a voice.”
  • Lisa was born to move. She loves performing in the community’s Christmas play, the drumming circle, and creative dance group. She was not interested in drawing or painting until someone suggested that she listen to music as she paints. Now, she enjoys painting as an extension of her dancing.
  • “It’s just creating for the joy and sake of creating, says Glen. “Here, we are all Artists and we all have something to teach regardless of our ability. It is a place where you can be yourself and can really make a fool of yourself exploring your creativity without feeling judged. It's a place to be real!”
  • Jarrod likes to work with his hands. He likes to carve wood and work with stained glass. Here is a video where he speaks about an image he creates in stained glass.



A place of belonging

We foster collaborative art as a tool to connect, understand, and accept each other; to build relationships and community and enrich the lives of everyone involved.

In an era when collaboration is a buzzword, Heart and Hands has a lot to teach others about creating a space of welcome and hospitality, connection and cooperation, and respect for each person and their unique contribution. It doesn’t mean that everyone gets along all the time, but that people work through their issues because they care about each other and want to be part of something they are building together.

Two friennds enjoying a laugh

Times for meals, sharing, and celebration are important in creating the space where relationships grow both within the group and with a wide circle of family, friends, volunteers, local artists, and other members of the broader community. As each person discovers and expresses their own voice, they grow in their capacity to encourage others to do the same. The creative community becomes a space not only of creative expression, but also of mutual transformation.

A pathway to inclusion

We exhibit and sell our art at The Studio and in other venues and participate in a variety of events and projects in the wider community.

Hearts and Hands is invested in building a vibrant, inclusive Antigonish.

  • In the public library, there are two collective art pieces made by Hearts and Hands on display, expressing the love of the artists for their town, and the town for these artists.
  • Hearts and Hands participates in Antigonight Art After Dark festival hosted by Antigonish Culture Alive, creating projects that engage the public in making art.
  • Most years, the whole L’Arche community performs The Gift, a Christmas story, that has become a popular tradition for many people.
  • The creative dance group recently kicked off a launch of book of Antigonish stories at the Legion, creating the spirit of an East Coast kitchen party.
  • Arts shows, performances, and calendar sales promote the gifts of the artists and build a town where everyone makes a valued contribution.

And they have an influence well beyond their town. A couple of times a year, Students from around the world attending the Coady International Institute at St Francis Xavier University come to Hearts and Hands for a day. As part of the community-based development approach of the program, the students come to learn from the artists who know what it means to build inclusive community. Many of these current or future leaders come from countries where persons with intellectual disabilities are not visible; they discover that they are individuals with unique gifts who have something to teach them.

Group outdoors

Renewing the vision of L’Arche

Hearts and Hands is having real impact on the lives of those making art and the wider community. They’re hoping to expand their space – Elizabeth dreams of a ‘big room’ to house all those people and activities. Part of their success is a clear vision and principles that guide everything they do:

  • We welcome and value all creative expression.
  • We experience the personal fulfillment and joy that creating art brings to all of us.
  • Together we create an inspirational, positive and supportive atmosphere and promote equality and independence.
  • We appreciate and celebrate each other’s gifts.

Hearts and Hands is neither a home nor a day program. Like other L’Arche creative arts groups, it’s a new model that marries a vision of creative expression to the L’Arche vision of life-sharing, mutual relationships, developing and sharing gifts, and engaging with others to build a more human society. It’s a model of growth, bringing the vision of L’Arche to more people in new, powerful, and delightful ways.


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.

Companions on the Journey: Part Two

The road of transformation has its breakthrough moments, yet it takes many twists and turns along the way. That’s why we need to nourish ourselves and the fellowship we share.

Companions on the Journey: Part One

John and Greg talk about how their friendship took root and has grown through mutual support for over thirty years.

Creative Connections

Creative Connections is a space for making art with persons with intellectual disabilities. It promotes belonging, diversity, and inclusion while extending the impact of L’Arche in the city of Saint John, New Brunswick.

Continuing the Journey in Unity and Hope

With people around the world, the family of L’Arche mourned the death and celebrated the life of our founder, Jean Vanier. We are called to stay on his path.

L’Arche Joliette’s Zoom Media

This team of creators, designers and technicians offers full sound, image and video services to make their collaborators shine!

The important work of the Vanier Institute of the Family is a call to L’Arche

Today, L’Arche’s relationship with families is changing as we support more persons with disabilities living with their families and welcome them and their family members into our community life.

Sage and Time

Making community art unleashes creativity and builds bridges between seniors and the wider Sudbury community.

Inclusion Begins With Me

A conference on inclusion organized by L’Arche Agapè was an occasion to deepen understanding and recognize that “change will be achieved by breaking down barriers and creating awareness among people”.

Birds Make Me Think About Freedom

A play inspired by the stories of persons institutionalized for having intellectual disabilities, their families, and friends.

Journey to the Greatest Gift

In a Gala celebration, L’Arche Daybreak celebrated 50 years of creating the Beloved Community, discovering the sacred in the ordinary stuff of daily life – albeit with magic and space travel thrown in.

From Presence to Citizenship to Community

In order to promote meaningful inclusion, we need to build communities that welcome the gifts and contributions of all their members.

Give People their Place

As we celebrate the 50th of L’Arche in Canada, we’re amplifying the voices of persons with lived experience, sharing insights on creating belonging, diversity and inclusion in Canada.

Building a model of Inclusive Housing in Elmira, Ontario

Over the past decade, L’Arche has been connecting with the Elmira Developmental Support Corporation to learn how they are building “supportive affordable housing” for persons with intellectual disabilities, and to share our vision and experience.

Building Community through Art Discovering our Creative Potential

Hearts and Hands, the creative arts space of L’Arche Antigonish, is promoting creative expression, belonging, and inclusion in Nova Scotia through community arts.

Building Inclusive Housing

Innovative housing options that promote choice, autonomy, and inclusion are changing the landscape of disability supports in Canada and offer L’Arche an opportunity for greater impact.

What belonging, diversity, and inclusion mean to me

L’Arche Canada is launching an online reflection to Celebrate the Gift of belonging, diversity, and inclusion by listening to the voices of persons with lived-experience and those who share life with them.

An Innovative Model of Life-Sharing in the Comox Valley

Innovative housing options that promote choice, autonomy, and inclusion are changing the landscape of disability supports in Canada. The Vanier Suites of L’Arche Comox Valley are a new model of shared living renewing the vision of L’Arche.

Presenting… Ross!

Now we’re delighted to introduce you to Ross Moncrieff, the second of the two individuals with intellectual disabilities selected for a session with a professional photographer.

Measuring Impact in the Movement for Inclusion

L’Arche delegates reflect on their experience and learning from the December 3rd Federal Policy Forum on Inclusion titled “What Gets Measured Gets Done.”

“Painting is the song of the heart”

This artwork embodies the innate human desire to create a personal, physical mark which holds our fragile identity in the strength of an intentional creative gesture.

Presenting… Tiana!

Our friend Gil invited us to think about the importance of being “in the camera,” and inspired us to invite others to take their turn. We are delighted to introduce you to Tiana!

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.

Celebrate the Gift

In October 2019, we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of L’Arche Daybreak and of L’Arche In Canada. We will take time in the next 12 months to share our stories in many creative ways. L’Arche Canada will put a spotlight on the ways our vision and values respond to our world today, celebrating the gifts of belonging, diversity, and inclusion.

L’Arche Tova Café promotes Belonging and Inclusion in Winnipeg

Social purpose businesses or enterprises focused on food and hospitality are vibrant and innovative ways to promote belonging and inclusion. For over 6 years, L’Arche Tova Café has led the way not only for the city of Winnipeg, but also for L’Arche in Canada.

Storytelling “with”

L’Arche storytelling puts belonging, diversity, and inclusion at the centre to help us “imagine the world differently.”

Where is happiness, where is it…?

Happiness is a trendy topic. There are as many definitions of happiness as there are individuals, yet never has a civilization developed such precise models and ideas of what happiness should be.

Institutional life – a bit of context

Raphael Amato offers some background on the role of institutions in the 20th century

Listening to and amplifying the voices of marginalized people

Each message pays tribute first to a person’s story, highlighting and sharing the richness and diversity of these heartfelt testimonies.

L’Arche International Family Day

The first Saturday of October is L’Arche International Family Day. Discover the gift of L’Arche around the world and celebrate our solidarity with one another.

Setting our course for the next 50 years

Looking forward to an era where L’Arche people with and without disabilities join with others of like spirit to advocate and change society – making it more inclusive for everyone.

L’Arche London’s Gathering Place

One example of the increased impact L’Arche communities are having across Canada

Investing in Justice for Institutional Survivors

Patricia Seth, an institutional survivor, put it this way, “It was like living in a prison. The only thing is, we didn't know when we would even get out.” Inspired by the founding story of L’Arche, L’Arche in Ontario is engaging in Investing in Justice, a series of projects promoting healing and belonging, truth and reconciliation for survivors.

L’Arche Montérégie Art Workshop “Le Pot-en-ciel”

Le Pot-en-ciel is an art workshop that would not be if it weren’t for one member of L’Arche Montérégie who dreamed of a place where he and fellow artists could draw and paint together in a spirit of sharing and mutual teaching. Photography by Jonathan Boulet-Groulx.

Summer in the Forest: One L’Arche Perspective

Summer in the Forest is an extraordinary film – a feature-length documentary by British filmmaker Randal Wright beautifully shot and scored. The subjects of the film are Jean Vanier and several members of his community of L’Arche Trosly in France and of the L’Arche community in Bethlehem. (Vanier speaks in English with dialogue in French and Arabic with English subtitles.)

Holocaust Education Week: Remembering Aktion T4, the Nazi Euthanasia Program

A few years ago, I went with Mel Kirzner, a man with an intellectual disability who welcomed me to L’Arche in 1985, to visit the Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Holocaust Remembrance Garden at the Reena Community Residence in Vaughan.

Social Inclusion Cannot Exist without True Community and Friendship

L’Arche Canada is participating in a series of round tables on the theme of “Living Together” – sharing life with and including persons who are vulnerable and marginalized in the heart of our communities.

L’Arche Canada’s monthly e-mail review of news, stories, and commentary about what is happening in L’Arche, with our partners, and within Canadian society.