WALLACEBURG ARTS: Using art to improve well-being

WALLACEBURG ARTS: Using art to improve well-being

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Recently I spoke with Mike Douglas, executive director of the Mississauga Arts Council (MAC). I met Mike through my involvement with the Alliance of Arts Councils of Ontario (AACO), a provincewide arts advocacy group that I sit on as a director on the Chatham-Kent Arts and Culture Network (CKACN). 

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I know, a lot of acronyms! But hey, nbd!  

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On the alliance I have always found Mike to be very progressive, informed and engaged in promoting and advancing arts and causes that support artists in Missisauga and across the province. 

Mike sent an email recently to AACO members mentioning an initiative that MAC has been developing.  

This initiative was inspired by research and programs in other countries, notably the U.K.’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing. Anyone interested in furthering their understanding of this subject can read the report here www.culturehealthandwellbeing.org.uk/appg-inquiry. 

It is worth noting that the four of the countries MAC referenced in their report as countries currently using arts in health programming are Finland, Sweden, Norway and Australia – all recently recognized as four of the 10 happiest countries in the world.  

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MAC found that several studies supported the fact that we are more robust and healthy humans if we are involved in arts. 

And these were not reports with a handful of participants. A U.K study had over two million participants.  

As a result of the research and discussions within the community MAC created ArtsCare, a program to assist residents with an integrated art for health program. 

Mike is passionate about ArtsCare and noted that research has shown that the simple act of attending a play improves mental health. 

When you attend a play, you are absorbed into the creative process and your serotonin levels increase. Therefore, you walk out of the play a little healthier than when you first took your seat.  

Theatre is a form of social story telling. Mike noted that audiences can often start breathing in unison at plays, in some cases even heart rates synchronize. 

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This phenomenon is called physiological synchrony. 

Involvement in the arts, even in a passive role, such as attending a performance, connects people and leads to improved health and connection between people.  

Arts health aids our spirits and is inexpensive by comparison to any meds with no negative side effects. 

In a five-week art class offered for 90 minutes a week to mostly newcomers and seniors in Missisauga, participants went from isolated individuals with many uncomfortable connecting with others to a cohesive group where participants displayed their work and spoke to guests about the creation and the process. 

Mike noted that he witnessed huge changes in the participants over those five weeks and ArtsCare seeks to extend the scope and breadth of those benefits. 

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There have been studies that show that dance can slow the progress of dementia. The problem is that most studies are sporadic and created for a short term to gather data, then suspended. 

One of the purposes of ArtsCare is to develop programs that can be prescribed by health care professionals and are supported and sustained. 

MAC works with artists to develop the talent pool and devise programs that will benefit the entire community through mental health and well-being through involvement in arts.  

The cost of this type of programming shows a healthcare savings of $200 to $250 per participant over traditional treatment for mental health and wellness. 

It also creates a diversification of revenue for artists. 

Mike noted that the pandemic and its aftershocks have driven many artists out of the profession. This diversification assists artists in making a sustainable living. (The romantic notion of an artist needing to starve to create is simply not a goal to which any artist I know strives.) 

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The value of a vibrant arts community in any community has been proven. It is the task and responsibility of an arts council to assist local artists to find sustainable existence for the benefit of all within that community.  

Mike noted that having professional artists within your community leads to opportunities for those artists to engage with the community with projects such as ArtsCare and education of hobbyists. 

Hobbyists add to the well-being of the community by engaging in activities that bring them together to create and collaborate with others.  

ArtsCare offers bereavement groups and settlement groups for new members of the community, as well as a wide variety of arts driven mental health initiatives. 

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Creating these programs is a collaborative project with artist community groups and MAC as a facilitator. 

Artists learn by doing, and a primary function of an arts council is to create opportunities for artists to do their work, learn by doing, create with others and celebrate their achievements.  

The CKACN initiated the Arts and Culture Heroes event in 2022 here in C-K for exactly that reason. 

This event celebrates excellence in the local arts community and has been supported by Waste Connections of Canada as well as the Municipality of Chatham-Kent for both events. 

It is only through these partnerships and sponsorships that CKACN can continue to develop and grow programs that benefit our community.  

I think of the CKACN as a conduit to success for artists. Our responsibility is to seek opportunities for artists to connect with each other and the community. 

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Connecting artists with projects like ArtsCare benefits everyone. We don’t have the funding or manpower of MAC, but we have a vibrant arts community and perhaps we can find volunteers to assist in developing our own ArtsCare and connecting artists across the community to continue to grow and prosper as a community.  

If you would like to volunteer on a committee, become a director, are an artist seeking meaningful contributions to mental health and well-being or a potential sponsor looking to be proactively engaged in supporting arts and culture in the C-K community, email me at [email protected]. 

To read the ArtsCare report go to: www.artscare.ca/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/ArtsCare-Proposal-for-Minister-Tibollo-by-MAC-Nov-2023-Email.pdf  

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