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Connecting Through Stories: an exploration of relationships through art making and connection to the Land

 

An HC Link Regional Gathering: March 30, 2017
Baggage Building Arts Centre in Thunder Bay.

Written by Lorna McCue, HC Link/OHCC

Every two years, HC Link works with local community organizations and groups to plan and co-host regional gatherings across the province that respond to regional needs and issues. These gatherings support the development of cross-sectoral and diverse community partnerships by providing opportunities to engage stakeholders across the region in a community-building event.

In Thunder Bay, a connection was made by HC Link with Alana Forslund, Coordinator of the Community Arts & Heritage Project, which initiated a discussion about the role of the arts in a healthy community. She brought Carol Kajorinne, Public Programming Coordinator for the Art Galley of Thunder Bay into the conversation who, in turn, invited others to join in.

The gathering was co-sponsored by HC Link and the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, with the organizing group doing the bulk of the work to develop the program, promote it to prospective participants, recruit facilitators and procure the art materials.

Members of the regional gathering organizing group were:
• Lorna McCue, Ontario Healthy Communities, a member of HC Link
• Carol Kajorinne, Public Programming Coordinator, Art Galley of Thunder Bay
• Crystal Nielsen, Community Artist
• Michelle Richmond-Saravia, founder of beSuperior Consulting and representative of Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre’s Long Life Care Program
• Michelle Kolobutin, Community Clothing Assistance

In planning the gathering, the group agreed that racism against Indigenous people was a pressing issue in Thunder Bay, and felt there was a need for non-Indigenous people to gain a greater understanding of the historical impacts of colonization and residential schools. They saw the regional gathering as an opportunity to make a contribution to Article 63 of the Call to Actions contained in the Truth and Reconciliation Report, which calls for “building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect”, and to Article 83, which calls for “a strategy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects and produce works that contribute to the reconciliation process”.

This event aimed to create intergenerational connections through art and story. It brought together more than 45 people, including about 20 Gr. 6 & 7 students from a neighbouring school, elders and seniors from the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre and Community Clothing Assistance, college students, artists, storytellers, and other community members. People from different cultures, from ages twelve to people in their eighties, were engaged in a creative process that combined sharing their stories with a collaborative weaving project, with a focus on learning and growth.

The event began with an opening smudge ceremony, led by Elder Diane Michano-Richmond. Michelle Richmond Saravia, of beSuperior Consulting, shared a story of her journey and invited other to share their stories throughout the day. One elder reminisced about his negative experience at a residential school.

       lornablogpic11    
Elder Diane Michano-Richmond    
Photo by Lorna McCue

Eleanor Albanese, a community-engaged artist, guided the collaborative weaving project. The participants were seated in groups of 6-8 around tables with a weaving frame and strips of cloth of a variety of colours and patterns. Eleanor laid out about a large number of pictures of a variety of subjects, such as people of different ages and races, different plants and animals and landscapes, along the windowsills that spanned the long room. She invited participants to go up, one table at a time, to view the pictures and select one to bring back to their table. Once seated again, they took turns explaining what they liked about the picture and what meaning it had for them. Many stories were shared in this way. Each person then took a marker and wrote meaningful words or drew a picture or symbol on a strip of cloth. They shared their words or symbols with others at their table, then, as a group, they worked on weaving the strips of cloth into the weaving frame.

 

 

 

 

  lornablogpic2 
A weaving created by a group of elders. Photo by Michelle Richmond Savaria

The group took a break for lunch, which was catered by Fox on the Run, a locally owned restaurant and catering service. Managing the lunch service was challenging, due to the narrow shape of the somewhat overcrowded room and the diversity of the participants regarding mobility, dietary needs and cultural considerations. However, with several helping hands from students and other helpers it all worked out.

 

 

 

lornablogpic3

Students explain the meaning of their weaving.  
Photo by Lorna McCue

When the groups completed their weavings, they showcased them at the front of the room and explained the meaning of some of the elements. There were many exclamations about the beauty of the weavings and a warm, positive mood was apparent at the close of the gathering.

 

 

 


Because of the diversity of the participants and varying literacy levels, it was decided not to have each participant complete an evaluation form, but to pose a series of reflective questions to the members of the organizing group. While there were some suggestions for improvements, all felt that the gathering was successful in meeting its objectives. As Eleanor Albanese said: “Community-engaged art making breaks down barriers of all kinds.” Other comments from the organization group included:


It was moving for me to see how people really did share their stories, and wove their stories together, both symbolically and literally.


For the seniors and Elders, it provided a creative and social opportunity. The youth had the opportunity to share and hear stories through art making as well as devour some nurturing food. I heard some profound stories come out of the youth! I feel that no matter the age, everyone had a valid and meaningful story to share.


For something like this to be successful, it takes a high level of experience in community-engaged arts and also cultural knowledge; it takes humility; it takes a group of people all working together with a common goal; it takes a spirit of helping each other and helping the participants feel both welcomed into a space and comfortable in the space; it takes hot tea and coffee, and food to share!  It takes courage and a positive view of the future, as well as acknowledgement of the pain of the past (in the instance of residential schools and our history.)   In other words, it takes tremendous thought and planning.  And even though things did not go perfectly, in my view, it was a special day.  And, of course, there is always room to grow and learn. 




For those interested in viewing the “Connecting Through Stories” weavings, they will be on exhibit at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery Community Room from May 9-24.

 

       

Thank you for your generous support throughout organizing this wonderful event. It’s been a pleasure working with you and OHCC/HC Link.

Carol Kajorinne and the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

       
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