Last June, ArtBridges/ToiledesArts’s Project Director, Seanna Connell and Francophone Community Arts Coordinator, Catherine Lamaison, spent a week in Montréal to visit and meet 19 community partners and learn about the work that they do on the ground. While most of the ArtBridges/ToiledesArts’ team’s work is done online or over the phone from our Toronto office, getting a chance to travel, see community arts programs in action and finally meet partners in person is always highly inspiring and gives all the meaning to our work.
Thursday June 23rd
After three days of visits, we were so inspired by all this new information and discovery that it became difficult to talk about it right away, we needed time to process it all. In the meantime, we kept going and were on our way to more exciting meetings for our last day in town: Exeko, Cafe Graffiti, NDG Seniors Atelier, Les Impatients, ELAN and Cirque Hors Piste.
Exeko is a very innovative and progressive organization offering a variety of programs, all extremely creative and aiming at achieving social inclusion through art and philosophy. Exeko’s approach consists in creating collective thinking spaces where everyone is equal, through the organization of critical or creative workshops and programs. They are Spectrum Productions’ neighbours, in a big arts building in Le Plateau.
Café Graffiti is an organization that has existed for 30 years in the Maisonneuve neighbourhood, relying on an interesting business model. The publication of a magazine (a prevention tool sold all over Québec, mostly in schools, in French and English and edited by the founder of Café Graffiti, Raymond Viger) and the profit of a bar/restaurant across the street (Bistro Ste Catherine) generates money to fund the organization. Café Graffiti aims at offering a space where youth can come, hang out, make art and feel safe, while developing professional skills, fighting exclusion and marginalization.
Seanna dropped in to see the renowned organization – Les Impatients. Aside from large meeting/art rooms and gift shop there is a museum that showcases sculptures made by program participants. Here art therapy, hands-on arts activities and incredible art exhibits are all in progress! Seanna dropped in at the NDG Seniors Atelier’s weekly workshop founded and run by Nicole Macoretta, a masters student in art therapy at Concordia. This new Art Hive is situated in the rec room on the ground floor of a senior’s residence. This beautiful weekly program works so well because it is accessible to the residents and neighbourhood (the program came to them! rather than residents travelling out to a program); there are no overhead costs, as there is an arrangement with the facility to not charge rent; the facility has given them a secure storage area for art supplies (so that materials don’t need to be carted back and forth every week and so that artwork in progress can be stored). Mostly it works so well because Nicole has created an environment for creativity that is warm, supportive, non-judgemental, joyful and accommodating. Participants are free to work on a new weekly art activity or their own project.
Seanna met with Christie Huff with ELAN – English-Language Arts Network that “connects, supports, and creates opportunities for Québec’s English-speaking artists and arts communities.” ELAN works on expanding access to affordable English language arts activities and workshops. Christie was interested in learning more about ArtBridges and to exchange ideas.
Finally, Catherine met with Karine Lavoie from Cirque Hors Piste. Cirque Hors Piste is a social circus organization. It is the Montréal cell of Cirque du Monde, the social action branch of Cirque du Soleil. Offering marginalized people with an alternative space and creative inclusion, the organization promotes individual, social and collective learning through the circus arts. It provides social circus workshops where outreach workers and circus instructors join forces. Regular sessions, sessions in public spaces, and creations in intensive mode – all aim to support the personal, physical and social development of young people in precarious situations. The overarching goal is to help participants create new relationships with society. It was exciting to learn more about the whole social circus network in Canada!
Friday, June 24th
Seanna and Catherine met early on St. Jean Baptiste Day morning, left Montréal and drove almost 4 hours north-west to Kitigan Zibi reserve to meet young video artists at the Wapikoni Mobile outreach program. The mobile – an RV equipped with state of the art video equipment was plugged in for the month to an electrical outlet at a rest stop in the community. Matthieu- our host – introduced us to Craig and Russell – young community residents whom had previously made a few 5-minute videos. We sat, talked and watched their videos and learned all about Wapikoni. Wapikoni provides Indigenous youth with equipment, skills and guidance on how to tell something personally meaningful through video. The stories are poignant and deeply moving. Youth are fully part of all the processes of video conception and development and the outcomes are professional quality. The videos are shown around the world. After a couple of hours we high-tailed it back through Ottawa and down the 401 to Toronto, so stimulated from all the amazing people we met and projects we saw and learned about. What a privilege! Thank you community partners in Montréal!!!
-Seanna Connell and Catherine Lamaison