THUNDER BAY - For student and aspiring artist, Selena Baxter, a community arts project not only helped her develop and share some big ideas, but also allowed a little light to shine in to her life.
“It was a very good experience,” said 16-year-old Selena. “It was very opening. It brought light to me in a way. I was going through hard times then and it brought light to that and I left feeling happy and energetic, like a new mindset.”
Selena was one of many who participated in and helped facilitate the Resilient Hearts Project, a community driven arts project highlighting the strength and resilience of people in Thunder Bay.
The project was a collaborative partnership between the Community Arts and Heritage Education Project (CAHEP) and Faye Peterson House, Community Clothing Assistance, Evergreen: A United Neighbourhood, Speak Up Program at Churchill Hub, Thunder Bay Boys & Girls Club, Community Action Group, and Inside Out Community Art Studio in Victoriaville Centre.
Throughout the year, more than 200 people participated in 40 workshops that were held with partnering organizations and focused on themes of resilience and self-care.
The project was funded by the Ontario government program: It’s Never Okay: Ontario’s Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment.
“We wanted to engage all ages, from as young as five and six years old up to seniors and elders,” said Eleanor Albanese, Resilient Hearts Project coordinator. “Our focus for our projects was very much about prevention and celebrating the resilience of people in Thunder Bay.”
The workshops utilized a variety of different artistic styles and teachings, from poetry to visual arts to film, which Albanese said creates a much stronger sense of inclusivity.
“Some people are great story tellers and love to tell stories, others people are very visual and need to work with their hands,” she said. “By offering a variety of entry points, people can find different ways to express themselves.”
To celebrate the year of workshops and highlight the work that was created, CAHEP released a book and a short film.
“We created a book that has little examples of the art pieces that were made, interviews from participants and artists, and a short animated film was made entitled I Am Sincere that celebrates the creative process that took place in all of these different settings throughout Thunder Bay,” Albanese said.
Zoe Gordon, an artist facilitator and filmmaker, said the film came from collecting one word lines from people participating in different projects and is very much a collaborative story.
“We chose to create something that kids can related to, because a lot of CAHEP work is with youth and children, so we made it cute and funny but with a message,” she said. “I hope especially children and youth feel excited to be creative and work through problems.”
The book, which is a 24-page collection of some of the work created throughout the workshops and the experiences of participants, is available on the CAHEP website.
“Our hope all along is to celebrate resilience and to encourage storytelling and community building among the participants,” Albanese said. “We are hoping the book and the film continue the legacy of the community building.”
For Selena, her hope is people will see the true power of art and creative expression, and just how resilient it can make you feel.
“I’m hoping they will take away that life is better than what it seems,” she said. “There are parts you need to understand. Everything is different than what you see.”