Citizens Paint, Wrap Their Way to Healing

Inclusive art group building strength, community

From dabbling in watercolour to making mosaic tiles from smashed china, a group of Peterborough residents is discovering the power of fine art.

Whether they’re putting paint to canvas or wrapping objects with wire, this artwork is about more than creating pretty pictures.

Brian Nichols sees first-hand the healing properties of exploring fine art and how the process of creation builds community. Brian is an artist, psychotherapist and co-facilitator of this art group, You Can Make It Art, that meets weekly at The Mount Community Centre.

Special things happen when people are given the space to explore their creative side and, in turn, uncover new guidance for navigating the challenges of their life journey.

“The focus is not on the creation of art, it is on community and dialogue and connection,” Brian tells Electric City Magazine.

“This levels the playing field so we are all creators. We’re not doing therapy, we’re a variety of people coming together every week for art. The artists are really there as curious people wanting to make marks.”

The host artists are looking to provide experiences to the community that are different from traditional art classes and art-making.

For several months now, about 25 people, varying in age from around nine to 90, who are often on the fringe of their communities, gather to make art.

Participants range from victims of trauma to those who have mental health issues to others who have a disability.

Books 300Special things happen when people are given the space to explore their creative side and, in turn, uncover new guidance for navigating the challenges of their life journey.

The art group, also facilitated by Mary Lou Green, is neither a class with pointed art instruction nor a therapy session. There is very little structure, there are no expectations and commitment isn’t required — although it often becomes natural as participants begin to see the benefits of attending weekly.

One woman has tailored her work schedule around the art group as she recognizes it’s vital for her mental health and well-being.

Another participant, initially scared of creating art, was moved to play and explore.

Some parents have removed their children from school for the morning so they can participate in the group.

The vibe in the space can be, at times, quite quiet and focused as the discovery process unfolds.

“We’re tapping into the power of expression,” says Brian. “In my own personal experience, there are things happening that we can’t talk about in life but through art-making we can come to some greater understanding.”

In the UK, there’s a huge art movement, with doctors actually writing prescriptions for art, yoga and other creative classes.

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In Peterborough, the group meets in a pop-up space as opposed to a gallery and some of the participants reside in the Mount. An impetus for the initiative was to give those community members the access and opportunity to create art.

Professional artists join the participants each week and provide group members with the chance to explore a variety of visual arts through their own creativity, which allows them to work on their own healing.

It’s an experience that empowers participants to become creators instead of consumers, Brian adds.

Painting“There’s no doubt in my mind that people find happiness through art.”

They also find friendship. There’s a level of concern and care for the participants’ well-being Brian says, noting how a missing regular doesn’t go unnoticed.

Hospice Peterborough, the Youth Emergency Shelter and Crossroads are just a few of the agencies the founders are working with to connect people in need to the community art project.

Brian has had his own experience of creating art and coming to terms with a serious illness. Read more about him here.

Meanwhile at The Mount, the session runs from about 9:30-11 a.m. on Tuesdays at 1545 Monaghan Rd.

Admission is $5 per person per session or pay-what-you-can or free and includes all supplies.

Everyone is welcome.

For more information, please call Mary Lou at 705-740-0078 or e-mail Brian at bnichols@cogeco.ca.

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