Creative Connections: A Community Member Gives the Gift of Art
Brendan is completely engrossed in his sketch when I approach him to chat about his artistic brainchild ‘Creative Connections’, which he has been facilitating for approximately one and a half years. He’s thankful for the disruption, though, eager to tell me about the program. It’s a huge part of his day to day life, see, and he’s keen to spread the word as it’s most passionate advocate.
He starts from the beginning, explaining that he noted a gap, people lulling around the HOPE House cafe in the afternoons with not much to do other than indulge in a cup of coffee and snack alone or with a friend. On his own initiative he began to bring in a bunch of his own art supplies and drew up a “crappy little sign”. He admits the group started slowly, but through consistently showing up and engaging with the other community members, inviting people to sit with him and offering the use of his supplies, the group began to thrive. On this day, a random Wednesday afternoon, there are no less that 14 people sitting around a series of three long tables in our cafe, each colouring, drawing, immersed in their own work or simultaneously chatting with their neighbours and munching on muffins.
“In the beginning I think a lot of people hesitated to join me in creating art because they thought they couldn’t do it, or that they couldn’t do it well enough” he shares. “I tell them there’s no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ art. Art is personal. And I’m not judging them”.
Brendan believes the success of the program is partly due to it’s loose, even non-structured framework. Colouring books, mandalas, and blank paper, plus pencil crayons and markers are always available. The group has also done masks, murals and paintings with encouragement from Brendan. Collaborative projects are Brendan’s favourite, citing that they build community and foster support among the participants. They’re also an excellent opportunity to engage in discussion and problem-solving about one another’s contribution and abilities.
Brendan states that a key gift of the Creative Connections group is that the many benefits and therapeutic qualities of the program are mutual. As much as the participants glean acceptance, lack of judgment, support, creative expression, diversion, and social well-being, Brendan says, he too, reaps rewards for facilitating the group. “If I don’t show up one day, everyone notices. The group is concerned about me, they care about me and appreciate me. I get out of it what I put into it”.
Brendan is a community member and community leader here at HOPE House. He openly shares that he’s in recovery and has had his share of mental health challenges and so can relate to the challenges faced by other members of our community. His artistic talents procured from him a particularly special opportunity through the co-facilitation of ‘Our Stories: From Loss to Hope’ an arts based trauma healing pilot program that was hosted over six weeks this past Spring in April and May. Invited by HOPE House Social Worker, Mary Crome, and Five Star Relationships counsellor Ethena Williams, Brendan considers the opportunity to co-facilitate this group an immense honour and is ecstatic to hear that the group will continue and re-engage this September. Poverty, trauma and loss are closely related and ‘Our Stories: From Loss to Hope’ offers community members a medium to voice their losses, express their trauma and healing in an artistic way without re-traumatizing themselves and the others participating in the program. Through his artistic ability, openness and willingness to share his own experiences, Brendan is capable of offering support to others. When they share their stories, he is able to support them by relating some of his own experiences or things he has learned from his journey, especially for other males in the group who are restricted by societal biases of “*emasculating” expressions of feelings. We are so very grateful for Brendan at HOPE House and applaud and appreciate his contributions to the community. Creative Connections occurs Mondays – Thursdays from around 12 or 1 to 4pm. Everyone is welcome. Brendan, and all of us here at HOPE House, look forward to seeing you there.
*to make a man feel less masculine