The Creative Art Foundation of Canada, Healing Through Art

Article written by Florencia Lazcano in collaboration with the Carrefour jeunesse-emploi Montréal Centre-Ville.

This piece was submitted to the Citizen Journal project of the Peter-McGill Community Council. Please note that the opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect those of our organization. This project aims to create space for the voices of residents, students and friends of the neighbourhood through articles, photos, videos, and podcasts in any language. Are you interested in contributing? Contact us at benevolat@petermcgill.org!

Art therapy is a powerful tool that combines the healing properties of art with mental health support. It provides individuals with a creative outlet to express themselves and explore their emotions, ultimately promoting self-love and acceptance. The Creative Art Foundation of Canada (CAFC) recognizes the importance of art therapy and has taken steps to promote its benefits through its project, “Illuminate”.

The CAFC organized an event on the evening of Saturday, November 18th, featuring a diverse group of underground writers, including both published and unpublished authors who captivated the audience with their recitations and readings. The range of poems was impressive, covering topics such as reflections on winter, pieces inspired by the solitude of the pandemic, and love letters. The public also enjoyed some children’s book readings. One particular performance that left a lasting impression was a poem accompanied by a baritone voice and beautiful piano melodies. The emotions conveyed during this performance were deeply felt, evoking a strong sense of nostalgia and the weight of war.

These poetry sessions, along with open mic opportunities and delicious homemade food, serve a noble cause – to promote the healing properties of art. The CAFC believes in the power of self-expression through painting, writing, and singing. The atmosphere in the location was inviting, with a naturally colorful stained floor that reflects the steps of creation and transformation. Well-placed plants add a touch of greenery and summer vibes, while stunning paintings created by workshop attendees adorn the walls.

Art therapy has been proven to have numerous benefits for mental health. It reduces stress, improves symptoms of depression, aids in pain management, enhances concentration, and helps individuals with PTSD. Recognizing these benefits, the CAFC created the Illuminate program. This series of workshops and conferences aims to inform and assist individuals struggling with mental health.

From September 2023 to August 2024, the Illuminate program will engage, educate, and empower participants, highlighting the power of art therapy and creative expression in improving youth mental health. Additionally, from April to August 2024, the CAFC will offer free weekend workshops that provide two hours of art therapy and two hours of writing therapy. These sessions are specifically designed to help Montreal’s youth navigate their mental health challenges through creative outlets and skill-building. The goal of Illuminate is to foster understanding, encourage dialogue, and provide effective therapeutic strategies for mental health through the transformative power of art and creative expression.

During the event, I had the pleasure of speaking with some prominent voices in the field. One of them was Professor Miriam Hickman, the McGill Project Poetry Matters director. Professor Hickman shared her insights on the importance of art therapy and its impact on mental health. I also had the opportunity to speak with Jazmine Johnston, a young author who directed the event and provided further insight into the goals and aspirations of the CAFC.

Art therapy is a valuable tool that allows individuals to explore their emotions, find solace, and promote their mental well-being. The CAFC’s commitment to promoting art therapy through events like poetry nights and its Illuminate program demonstrates its dedication to improving mental health through creative expression. By providing a platform for artists and non-artists alike to come together and explore the healing power of art, the CAFC is significantly impacting Canada’s mental health landscape.

Some words from Jazmine Johnston, (a professional with a Bachelor’s in Education, focused on TESL from McGill University. Youth Educator, Events Coordinator, and Director at the Creative Arts Foundation of Canada (CAFC). Deeply invested in sociolinguistics and the integration of equity and diversity in language use. Her interests extend to writing, with a special focus on young adult (YA) fiction and poetry, contributing to the discourse on mental health and multiculturalism).

FL: What made you join the CAFC?

JJ: My journey with the CAFC began through my role as a language educator at Paramount Study in 2021. The intersection of our workspaces facilitated my exposure to the creative talents of the students, particularly their engagement with mental health through artistic expressions like painting, poetry, and prose. This synergy of art and advocacy resonated with me, propelling me from managing grants and minor operations to directing larger initiatives. My role allows me to amalgamate my passion for mental health advocacy with the celebration of multicultural and multilingual narratives through our diverse offerings of publications, workshops, and events.

FL: What do you think is the relation between Art therapy and mental health?

JJ: Art therapy serves as a conduit between the internal and external worlds. It allows for the physical manifestation of thoughts and emotions that often remain tangled within. By externalizing these feelings through art, individuals gain clarity and a sense of achievement, which is both therapeutic and empowering. This process not only facilitates skill development but also fosters a positive reinforcement cycle that is essential for mental well-being.

FL: Do you think about Art as a unifying medium?

JJ: The communal power of art was palpable during our recent open-mic poetry event on November 18th. It exemplified how art transcends age, background, and expertise, drawing together students, families, academics, mental health advocates, and residents of Montréal in a rich space of shared experience. The event was a celebration of artistic expression and a successful fundraiser, generating over $500 to reinvest in community support projects. Such events underscore the role of creative endeavors in forging inclusive and supportive spaces in the community.

FL: What is the poetry’s role in well-being?

JJ: Poetry is a unique art form that allows individuals to navigate their internal landscapes, providing a rhythm to thoughts and a flow to emotions. It encourages introspection and empathy, offering solace and understanding. Engaging with poetry, both in writing and reading, cultivates a mindful awareness and can be a powerful ally in one’s journey toward mental wellness.

Some words from Professor Miranda Hickman, representative of Poetry Matters (Department of English, McGill): https://www.mcgill.ca/poetrymatters/

“I’m a professor of English Literature at McGill, where I teach early twentieth-century experimental literature, especially modernist work (e.g. T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, H.D.) and poetry. Here’s my page at McGill: https://www.mcgill.ca/english/staff/miranda-brun-hickman.

I do think that poetry, as a mode of language that allows expression beyond the lines of ordinary language, offers a resource essential to mental health and well-being. As I said at the event, poetry can help people find internal language for resilience—and this is of vital importance for young people. Is there a rising appreciation for poetry among young people? It’s hard to gauge, but from where I sit, over the last 10 years, I’ve seen thriving interest in poetry among undergraduate and graduate students here at McGill and in Montreal. Several student-led workshops devoted to poetry here attest to this (e.g. Mcsway), there’s been considerable interest in our events at Poetry Matters, and I know that communities in poetry like Montreal’s Accent Series are flourishing.

Here’s an impression from our poetry initiative – there might have been an uptick in interest during the first year of the covid pandemic, when many people were turning to poetry for language that could help them cope with social isolation, articulate complex emotions that were difficult to express, and provide a way to connect with others through sharing text – poems, as (often compact) registrations of states of mind and feeling, can be sent easily across distance to someone with whom you want to make a connection on an emotional level. Here’s an article our initiative engaged with at the time: https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2020/04/why-poetry-is-having-a-moment-amid-the-global-quarantine.”

To learn more about future events and the CAFC’s commitment to promoting art therapy, please click on this link: https://cafccanada.org/

About the CAFC: The CAFC, rooted in Montréal since 2012, is a safe space for creative arts, especially for the youth. Our mission is to harness the diverse voices within Canada to create art that unites and transcends cultural barriers. By nurturing creativity, we aim to enrich our community and environment. We hold the belief that art and creativity are integral to mental well-being and provide a platform for artists to transform their talents into sustainable careers. Our commitment is to kindle the creative spark within each individual and to provide avenues for artists to thrive and give back to the community they enrich.