Finding understanding through the arts
By Darren Lum
June 21, 2016
There’s no denying the passion in the expressive arts students at Haliburton School of Art and Design.
You can see it in their eyes and in their gestures.
Offered over an intensive eight-week course, or on a part-time basis, the program teaches students to become expressive arts practitioners. According to the college website, they learn about their own creativity and how to design and deliver expressive arts programming to people in a variety of circumstances.
Students will use what they learn from the course in their other work, whether it be counselling, teaching, ministry or something else.
Lorrie Gallant of Brantford, who works at the Woodland Cultural Centre, a former residential school, said this program was a way to help her First Nations people. She is a “generational survivor”; her grandfather was a residential school student.
“I saw a need for helping individuals, former students of the residential school, or their families, or people affected by that trauma they experienced. One of the calls in the truth and reconciliation proclamation was for everybody to find something for that reconciliation in people,” she said. “When people come to the centre it’s part of their healing journey and I wanted to be able to facilitate that healing journey.”
Although her grandfather’s experience affected her family, it has also made her sensitive to how it has affected her whole community.
Expressive arts allows Gallant to help others with a different approach.
“It has so many facets to it so it’s not like saying we’re all going to write a poem and you’re going to find your healing. Well, maybe they need to dance. Maybe they need to sing. Maybe they just need somebody to hold space for them and listen to what happened to them and that’s part of their healing. So, the more modalities. The more tools that I have a better chance I have to help just one person,” she said.
The approach of expressive arts lends itself well to her culture.
“Because it’s not telling people how to find their healing. It’s offering the opportunity for them to discover what heals them. Is it going back to the past? Is it going back to their ancestors? Is it going back to a time when things were good before colonization? Going back to their roots, to the music, listening to the earth, listening to their feelings, regarded by their elders all of those things.
Expressive arts gives us ... it gives me the confidence that I can use any one of those things to help them,” Gallant said.
The musician, visual artist and children’s author said her strength resides in her husband, Raymond, and two daughters, Holly and Carly.
“If I didn’t have that foundation of a family I don’t think I could be here,” she said, referring to the intensive eight-weeks of study. “I’ve had 100 per cent support from them and love from them. That’s my grounding.”
From the small town of Cavan, located outside of Peterborough, Madeline Stewart waves her arms wildly as she recalls how she used art in presentations long before knowing there was a formalized approach.
“Today, I realized I was doing all this research: What are the creative arts? What definitions do I want to put into this presentation I put together and making up these activities? I didn’t know there was a an actual practice of it and I didn’t even know that’s what this program was. Wow, this looks cool I should go do it. Oh my gosh, I’m an expressive arts practitioner and I didn’t know that it was a thing, but I was doing it before I came here,” she said.
During research for social work she was doing in Durham, she learned of the expressive arts program at HSAD, which is described as a “highly experiential and discovery-based program.”
The classical violinist and social worker will start her master’s in social work at the University of Toronto this autumn.
“I didn’t have a lot of expectations, but I just feel like I’ve been given all the gifts to go and be who I’m supposed to be in the world,” she said.
Expressive arts participant Mike Unrau of Calgary, a PhD student at the University of British Columbia, sees the arts as disarming, allowing people to shed the mask they wear.
“For me, the real learning I found from this process is the power that art has to move me and or any individual from my more social mask, which includes fear and discernment and judgment, to a truer sense of being, which includes authenticity, fearlessness and risk taking and ... how art helps move that and creates that transition,” he said.
He was excited for what it offered in the two-month period.
“My interest is to use expressive arts in the community context with people who are dealing with sort of large complex issues like societal trauma as opposed to individual trauma,” he said.
For the first time this year the college was able to work out a transfer credit opportunity, which Unrau took advantage of.
The program’s co-ordinator for the past two years and former graduate, Julie McIntyre couldn’t be prouder of the course. Being in the front seat, to influence and guide future practitioners, is important to her.
McIntyre’s motivation is rooted in a personal tragedy. Several years ago when her husband of 30 years died, she was left in world devoid of colour.
“I found I was into a depression when I didn’t see the world in colour and when I started making art I found the world became colourful again to me. I was able to make connections so I explored healing through the arts as a result,” she said.