How Art Heals

The Link, Spring 2018
| by Elizabeth Palermo |

Art Hive is an accessible community art project.

Blending dreams on canvas. Shaping stories into sculpture. Carving out hope. But not everyone can access art experiences or believe they belong there. At Green Wood Coalition in downtown Port Hope, Art Hive is an accessible community art project designed to cultivate positive change for people.

Like much of the programming at the storefront community hub at 18 Ontario Street, the creative arts program started as an experiment in 2010. After several years of community outreach based at the old Tower Hotel, the opportunity to work with an expressive arts practitioner came about. Different from art therapy, which is a discipline of psychology, expressive arts is about engaging in self-discovery through making art in a safe environment for people to be themselves and interact with each other.

“Making art can be a powerful process of healing.”

“We’re building social connections and people who participate say the experience is transformational for them,” says Green Wood Coalition Executive Director David Sheffield. “I often said if we treated it as a pilot project, we would have thought of it as a failure. For the first while, there was a lot of drinking coffee and lone wolf behaviour.”

But over the years, a core group of participants has bonded, sharing stories and looking out for each other. Sheffield says with trust there’s the opportunity to explore more and get into the creative zone. Part of a national network of accessible community art studios that started in Quebec in 2011, Art Hive takes place at Green Wood Coalition on Thursday mornings 10am to 12pm. On any given week, there can be almost 20 people in attendance, all with a range of life experiences—many including mental illness or substance misuse.

“Often they’re having a lot of things happening in their head, as they would describe,” says Sheffield, who facilitates and participates in the group. “So making art brings that down to fewer things and art becomes a useful technique to manage their life. People find they can take that with them and create at home.”

Research shows that art heals by changing a person’s state of stress to one of relaxation, nourishing emotional and mental well-being. The Art Hive model has evolved over two decades of research and experimentation, led by Concordia University Professor Janis Timm-Bottos. Each hive welcomes everyone as artists and celebrates a community’s strengths and creative capacities. Foremost, Art Hive is open to everyone.

“When you make art together you open yourself to rich human experience that connects you to people,” says Sheffield, who’s currently exploring with the groups one’s inner child through 3D sculpture of children’s clothing. “We’ve experimented with different groups and activities to make it safe and comfortable for those feeling cut off from the larger community and others will often cross over and participate. So we get that mix of experiences that doesn’t come with a stigma that this is for people in poverty or are needy.”

Like Green Wood’s weekly dinner and community garden that’s also open to everyone, Art Hive is the catalyst for people to be together, interact and build relationships. While Sheffield hopes to increase the amount of creative opportunities in the community for people to have transformational experiences, the reality is much of their time is spent responding to crisis.

“I think we need to think about how we take care of each other and ourselves in emotional and mental well-being,” says Sheffield. “There are a lot of people in the community living isolated with anxiety and depression, and I think there’s a lot more [we can do] to help one another. I see mental health as a spectrum we are all on.”

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Elizabeth Palermo is a writer and yoga instructor living in Campbellcroft with her husband and two boys.