Creative Connections

By John Guido with Tricia Hayes and Gray Gillies

Patrick McGrath, a talented musician and master-of-puns, has come along way in the past three years. Recently, he said, “I’ve grown as an artist… Before Creative Connections started, I wouldn’t touch a paintbrush.” Today, he’s painting, drawing, and exploring other media. He hasn’t lost his love of wordplay, but he’s just as likely to express his wit through art. The other day someone asked, “What are you drawing Patrick?” He said, “I drew my phone. I’m drawing it in the style of Van Gogh.”

At Creative Connections, we get to see people’s gifts shine and be stretched and grow in different ways that we’ve never seen before. Each of the 20 artists with intellectual disabilities is growing not only creatively, but personally too – building friendships, becoming more positive and outgoing. There’s a great sense of belonging here. We’re just a bunch of people following our passions and creating together. We love being in a space that’s so creative, so joyful.

It’s not a charitable interaction but a new identity based on belonging, inclusion, and diversity.

It’s also a space that is highly visible: one wall is made of windows and we’re on one of the busiest, most vibrant streets in Saint John. People are compelled to come in because they see art in the window. Whether local artists, our friends and neighbours, or just someone passing by, they get to see persons with disabilities in a new way. The members with disabilities welcome visitors into a space that’s uniquely theirs – the walls are covered with things they’re proud of. Krista Simmons will say proudly, “I’m an artist.” It’s not a charitable interaction but a new identity based on belonging, inclusion, and diversity.

Creating a safe space

We are the public face of L’Arche, but we’ve learned that there have to be limits. If someone stops by, we invite them to join us at the table to make art, but we no longer advertise that we’re a drop-in centre and don’t offer classes to the public. That led to chaos. High levels of noise and activity aren’t helpful for the people we support.

For true inclusion, it’s sometimes better not to go wide, welcoming everyone to belong, but to go deep in order to be respectful and honest about the people you’re here for. Because we work with vulnerable persons, guidelines need to be in place. We’ve welcomed people who in other situations have had the police called because of their interactions. It’s different here. It’s an environment where they feel safe and welcome. It brings out their best selves.

Creative Connections is a place where people can feel a deeper sense of “I’m enough.”

What we offer at Creative Connections is a place where people can feel a deeper sense of “I’m enough.” That’s a tender, delicate movement of the most important piece of you, and it needs to be protected. For us, that protection is real, meaningful relationships where there’s honest feedback and accountability. There are people here who would not be creating art if they didn’t have these relationships. Art is always risky. It’s taking something important and putting it out there. You can’t do that in a shallow way.

Sharing life in community

L’Arche is all about sharing life, learning and growing together. Some of the members of Creative Connections need to be here because they haven’t found many spaces where they belong. It’s an important part of their time with us even if it is just for a few hours a week.

There’s a lot of being together around the table. That’s when connections happen between people. We share lunch and tea breaks there. There’s a constant back and forth with the same jokes, the same puns. After we eat, some people will break out a word search or their music, but most of us play UNO. We can be very competitive!

Sometimes our feast is not food. Sometimes, it’s paint. Sometimes, it’s joking, UNO, and cookies. And there’s openness and gratitude for each other.

On birthdays, we follow the L’Arche custom of “passing the candle” to share what we like about the person we’re celebrating. People look forward to it and will rearrange their schedules to be there. Sometimes people have tears in their eyes – there aren’t many places where we hear how much we’re appreciated.

Sometimes our feast is not food. Sometimes, it’s paint. Sometimes, it’s joking, UNO, and cookies. And there’s openness and gratitude for each other. We’re not together all the time, but when we are we’re constantly feasting together. It’s a distillation of L’Arche community life.

Opening up each person’s creativity

The art springs from the experience of belonging. Here is what the artists say:

Danielle: “Art keeps me calm, occupied, and it’s really fun. I’ve grown as an artist by trying new things, like digital art. I get to be with friends. I’m always laughing… Sometimes I have a hard time with my drawings, but you guys help.”

Warren: “I think God put me on the planet to make people happy through my art. My drawings have improved since really getting into it at Creative… It’s a place where I can express myself freely and creatively. It gives me a lot of opportunities- like going to Newfoundland (to help lead a L’Arche retreat).”

Jacques: “Art is a hobby I like to do and I love making art for others to enjoy. The word “creative” allows me to be creative! I love drawing pictures, hanging with my friends and playing UNO.”

Krista: “Art makes me feel proud and happy. I’ve grown as an artist by trying new techniques. I love cleaning.”

The art springs from the experience of belonging

Yunnery: “I really like creating art by painting and colouring. I’ve grown as an artist a lot because this is the first time I’ve really painted. I enjoy coming to Creative Connections because it opened me up more.”

Anne (a volunteer): “I’ve grown as an artist by trying new things. It can be overwhelming at first since it is such a small place.” She appreciates the “fellowship and opportunities to meet new people.”

A springboard for inclusion

The artists love the connections they’re making in Uptown Saint John and beyond through their art. Danielle said, “It connects me to the wider community of Saint John by selling and showing my art in Creative Connections and in shows.” Warren has done an interview with the Telegraph Journal. Jacques appreciates that many people see his art at the studio and on social media. Krista said, “People love my art and it connects me to the wider community by gifting my art to other organizations and through our shows. Tourists from all over (including from cruise ships) come by our studio and buy my art.”

Here are some of the activities that promote meaningful inclusion:

  • We do “city walks” with a photographer, Gillian Barfoot, where we explore Saint John and learn about light and shadow, close-up, black and white, etc.
  • We work occasionally with other professional artists and passionate amateurs when they are able to volunteer their time.
  • Different school groups come in for an art session. It’s great to see our folk welcoming the kids, modeling art making, and affirming them. Once a boy proudly declared, “I have autism.” It’s a space where it’s cool to have a disability.
  • Every week we have a program co-lead with the public library when the artists choose a topic they’d like to know more about. The librarian helps put together a presentation. And then we do a piece of art in response. One librarian said, “When you guys come it’s my favorite time of the week.”
  • We create postcards called ‘love letters’ to raise money for local charities.
  • We produce prints for NB Box “a carefully curated line of gift boxes filled with the best locally made New Brunswick products.”
  • We’ve begun a mural at a local coffee shop that benefits a local homeless shelter.
  • With the New Brunswick Association for Community, we host the Everything Party, a social time to explore each other’s interests and passions; and create custom art pieces for individuals moving into independent living.
  • We do individual commissions like Krista’s piece for the Lieutenant Governor, custom phone cases, and works for individuals and local non-profits.

Creative Connections is a space where art is the fruit of friendship, belonging, and personal growth nurturing connections and vibrant, inclusive community in Saint John.

Tricia Hayes (left) and Gray Gillies Mott (right) are the team who help create a welcoming space and support the artists of Creative Connections.


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.