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.


Nomination of Jeff Gilbreath as Ontario Regional Leader

The Mandate and Selection Committee for the Ontario Region, chaired by Jenn Power, is at the end of its mission. The committee unanimously recommended the appointment of Jeff Gilbreath as Regional Leader for the next 4 years, a recommendation that I confirmed, and that Jeff enthusiastically accepted.

Announcement - L'Arche North Bay

L’Arche Canada acknowledges with sadness that the L’Arche North Bay Board of Directors has determined that the current state of L’Arche North Bay is unsustainable and not viable into the future. As a result of this decision, the Board has resolved to cease operations and dissolve the corporation.

Presenting Michael McDonald, new Communications Coordinator for L’Arche Canada

We are very pleased to announce that after a thorough search, interview and selection process, Michael McDonald has been hired as the Communications Coordinator for L’Arche Canada.

Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, receives Royal Assent

The Accessible Canada Act is now law. The government and the disabilities community have lots to do together to make it effective.

Celebrate the Gift gathering

Celebrate the Gift, August 5-9, 2019, promises to be an amazing gathering to learn together, celebrate, and create friendships and community.

Jean Vanier Research Centre at King’s University College UWO

King’s University College at Western University has announced the creation of the new Jean Vanier Research Centre under the direction of our good friend, Dr Pamela Cushing.

Announcing a major investment in L’Arche Canada

The Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability Issues – Grant

Program on the abuse of religious women in the Church airs in Canada

L’Arche Canada reiterates our deep compassion for the victims of abuse and our commitment to a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and abuse.

L’Arche Greater Vancouver launches ‘We All Belong’ campaign

The $30 million project to build a fully-accessible, three-story building is the organization’s most ambitious dream in its 45-year history.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities visits Canada

Ms Devandas Aguilar was invited by the Government of Canada and visited 5 cities across Canada looking at themes related to the articles of the CRPD.

Jordan Hart introduces “L’Arche Sundays” to his 100-day busking challenge

“I have never learned how to love more purely and profoundly than through people with intellectual disabilities.”

Dr Pamela Cushing, friend of L’Arche, to receive Tanis Doe Award

This award honours an individual who dares to “speak the unspeakable” in advancing the study and culture of disability, and who has enriched through research, teaching, or activism the lives of Canadians with disabilities.

Accidental Friends: Stories from My Life in Community

This book by Beth Porter, long-time member of L’Arche Daybreak, will be available soon in North America.

Families in Canada Conference 2019

The Vanier Institute of the Family held the Families in Canada Conference 2019, gathering leaders to deepen understanding of family diversity, expedite research to practise and enhance family well-being.

Commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the Closure of the Institutions in Ontario

Flying to Freedom was presented by institutional survivors, People First of Ontario, the Council of Community Living Ontario, Community Living Ontario, the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, and L’Arche Toronto.

Zoom Media produces the official video for the Quebec week of intellectual disabilities 2019

It was Zoom Media’s inclusive team that prepared the content, filmed the video clip and edited it, accompanied by the Approprimage team.

Conference on love and inclusion

L’Arche Agapè will host a public conference on inclusion at the Université du Québec en Outaouais on March 21, 2019.

Federal Budget continues Ready, Willing, and Able Across Canada

“This investment allows RWA to continue working toward the vision of an inclusive and effective labour market with an employment rate for people with intellectual disabilities and ASD on par with the national average.”

Québec Recruitment Campaign

New recruitment video online!

BROKEN: Institutions, Families, and the Construction Intellectual Disability

A new book by Madeline Burghardt, long-time member and former assistant of L’Arche Toronto and L’Arche Daybreak.

Mon Ami Gil returns!

Following the success of Mon Ami Gil in the spring of 2018, a new series of short videos will delve more deeply into the story of Gil Frois – how he came to be the man he is today, sharing his life and gifts within L’Arche Agapè in Gatineau, QC, and in the other places where he belongs in the wider community.

Michael McDonald Speaking Tour

In four L’Arche communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the next two weeks

Bringing the VPS into 2019

From the Vulnerable Persons Secretariat

L’Arche Tova Café in the News

L’Arche Tova Café is featured in a review of 27 cafes that are social purpose businesses employing persons with disabilities across Canada.

L’Arche Beloeil becomes L’Arche Montérégie

On December 10, L’Arche Beloeil announced that it was becoming L’Arche Montérégie. The choice to make this big change was made to educate people across the region about their cause.

Measuring the Impact of Federal Legislation to Promote Inclusion

On December 3, the International Day of Person with Disabilities, L’Arche Canada participated in the 9th annual Federal Policy Forum on Inclusion hosted by the Canadian Association of Community Living and People First of Canada.

Canada accedes to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Accession to the Optional Protocol means that Canadians will have additional recourse to make a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, if they believe their rights under the Convention have been violated.

I Believe in You

“This book brings something new and surprising (...) I hope each reader can discover in a new way what it means to be human.” – Jean Vanier, from the foreword

Accessible Canada Act passed third reading

L’Arche Canada has joined the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance (FALA) and supports its recommended changes.

Le Sacrement de la Tendresse (the Sacrament of Tenderness) a new film about Jean Vanier

One of the film’s assets is the enthusiasm of the director, whose strength of conviction is real.

Letter from Jean, October 2018

“90 years old! My God, I can scarcely believe it. I have such a desire to shout out my thanks!”

Louis Pilotte, new National Leader

“From my very first days in L’Arche, I was convinced that I was living an experience that was part of a project for society, part of a vision of the world.”

New Community Leaders in Saint John and Wolfville

… and celebrating Homefires Community Leader Ingrid Blais

Second Reading for Accessible Canada Act

The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) legislation to ensure a barrier-free Canada

L’Arche Canada Foundation’s Fall 2018 Impact Bulletin

Top Story: Support for L’Arche Lithuania

Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying Regulations Fall Short

September 6, 2018 – L’Arche Canada supports the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) in urging the federal government to strengthen the system of monitoring Medical Assistance in Dying.

A new Community Leader for L’Arche Daybreak

L’Arche Canada and the Board of Directors present Trish Glennon, as the new Community Leader for L’Arche Daybreak

L’Arche Saskatoon’s 10th Anniversary video is amazing!

To celebrate their first ten years, L’Arche Saskatoon produced a wonderful 8-min video on “What is community?”

Third Interim Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada

The Government of Canada has released the third Interim Report on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) in Canada (July 1 to December 31, 2017)

Minister Duncan introduces the proposed Accessible Canada Act

June 20, 2018 – This historic legislation would enable the Government of Canada to take a proactive approach to end systemic discrimination of people with disabilities.

L’Arche Canada Newsletter Summer 2018

“Community is built as we become interdependent, humbly recognizing and welcoming our need of one another.”

Letter from Jean, May 2018

“Every day, I take a walk in my little garden, with my eyes looking down because I have to be careful where I walk: this means I notice the primroses.”

L’Arche Canada Foundation’s Spring 2018 Impact Bulletin

Top Story: L’Arche Toronto’s Trying It On For Size (TIFS) project for young people with intellectual disabilities

Summer in the Forest is coming to Canada

“Summer in the Forest is an extraordinarily tender documentary that asks what it means to be human. Here, even the most gentle scenes raise mighty questions.” (New York Times)

The Courage to Listen and Speak Out

As part of the campaign on fundamental values, the L’Arche Canada communications team recently published an online, illustrated account of a person who has lived through abuse. In very simple words, the account expresses a universal reality, the truth that not being heard is a source of immense suffering.

Jean Vanier Interview on CNN

Christiane Amanpour interviews Jean Vanier following the release of Summer in the Forest

First Nations – The Courage to Meet Face to Face

At L’Arche, we are all experimenting with what it means to find “the courage to truly meet difference.” We are on this journey whether we’re encountering a new person, or group, or any culture other than our own.

“Nineteen Paper Cranes”, a Film in Homage to the victims of Sagamihara, Japan

L’Arche International is launching the 9th film in its #AsIAm web series, filmed at L’Arche in Japan, in homage to the 19 victims of the Sagamihara massacre.

Growing as we Learn: The L’Arche Canada Growth Initiative

“A learning organization is an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.” – Harvard Business Review

Leadership Spring Trainings take off

The L’Arche Canada leadership development has entered a major new phase. After years introducing a model based on the core values of L’Arche and tools for reviews and team building, a comprehensive formation and training program – through over 100 online training modules – is being delivered across the country.

Communicating the Work of Outreach and Communications

It has been a challenging year of transition in the L’Arche Canada Outreach and Communications team and its work. As we move forward, new initiatives and new partnerships are emerging that promise increased impact in this important work.

Contributing Our Voices

On February 8, members of L’Arche attended an “in person” session of the accessibility consultation, as several L’Arche folk from other communities had done in their cities.

Meeting with the Minister

On April 6, 2017, representatives of L’Arche Canada met with the Hon. Qualtrough, Minister of Sports and Persons with Disabilities, to share our hopes and concerns – and express our gratitude and support – for new federal, accessibility legislation.

Revelations of Abuse in Trosly, France

In a letter dated March 24, 2015, the Leaders of L’Arche International informed the communities of L’Arche around the world of the results of a canonical (Church) inquiry into accounts of sexual abuse by Père Thomas Philippe who was involved in the beginnings of the first community of L’Arche in Trosly. (Père Thomas died in 1993 so there was no trial.)

Love at Second Sight

AboutFace, an organization providing supports to individuals with facial differences and their families, as well as public awareness and education to increase understanding and acceptance, recently hosted the Toronto premiere of this powerful film that transforms attitudes about appearance and encourages students to accept themselves and others. It’s about difference and belonging, judgment and inclusion.

What does an Accessible Canada mean to you?

The Government of Canada has launched a consultation process that will be open until February 2017. Canadians are encouraged to participate in the consultation by visiting:

L’Arche Canada response to Bill C-14’s

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Physician-Assisted Dying, and as the Federal Government works on drafting legislation on this issue, L’Arche in Canada has re-committed itself to providing the best possible supports for the people with intellectual disabilities in our communities, both in life and as they approach death.

Jean Vanier: Logician of the Heart

An excellent new book on Jean Vanier by Michael W. Higgins is available from Novalis.