From left to right: Lisa Ndejuru, Courtney Kirkby, Aimee Louw, Emily Enhorning, Lital Khaikin. All photos by Nasuna Stuart-Ulin. January 30, 2020.
Introduction to Access & Alternatives
Creative Resilience was a series of events that took place between November 2019 and January 2020, exploring the intersections between arts and health, and the ways in which artists’ working conditions often produce isolation, precarity, and unhealthy communities.
The Access and Alternatives panel brought together the threads of these conversations to address the issues of scarcity and access to resources, as well as creative solutions that can inspire collaborations, and foster space for individual and community well-being. This panel was an opportunity to not only discuss structural barriers, but also explore the ways in which our artistic practices can be tools of knowledge, empowerment and healing.
Elsewhere in Canada, we can look at examples like Workman Arts, a multidisciplinary arts organization that supports artists living with mental health and addiction issues through arts education and programming; or Over The Bridge, a national non-profit organization that has trained, educated and/or emotionally supported over 2,000 music industry members living with mental illness and addiction.
By situating these networks within broader conversations about structural barriers to health care, we can contribute to building community resilience. But while we discuss all of this, it’s worth noting that ELAN is nevertheless located in a building with significant barriers to accessibility, which ultimately impacts who can access our resources or work for us. ELAN would like to make note of the work done by Jennifer Broydell, who worked at ELAN on various initiatives to improve accessibility of our events and website, and who collected and summarized funding resources available to other organizations that might want to improve the accessibility of their space.
ASL interpretor, Natalie Constantine.
Montreal-based journalist Aimee Louw, whose work intersects with accessibility, disability justice, sexuality, and undoing settler fantasies. Aimee spoke about developing creative communities with the politics of accessibility justice and social support networks, and how normalizing accessible spaces is an act of community care. Aimee Louw is currently working on a novel called You Deserve Everything.
Courtney Kirkby is a Registered Massage Therapist trained in Thai Yoga Massage and prenatal massage. She is also an Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Massage® Practitioner, and birth and postpartum Doula. Her interest is working with individuals at all stages of life to improve everything from experiences with menstruation to menopause. Courtney is also a papier mache and sound artist, a teacher at a mental health community centre, and a radio documentary maker.
The Tiger Lotus Collective is a wellness centre offering tender loving care and education. Tiger Lotus is made up of practitioners and educators in Montreal passionate about healing in its many forms. The health care system, with its narrow scope of treatments and overburdened hospitals and clinics, is unequipped to deal with physical and psychological issues that impact women and trans people. Tiger Lotus focuses on providing a preventative instead of curative model of health care and try to educate about our bodies and spirits, and how best to care for them in the day-to-day.
Lisa Ndejuru is a transdisciplinary PhD candidate at Concordia University and is a member of the Ordre des psychologues du Québec, with certifications in Moreno psychodrama and third-party neutral conflict resolution. She is a skilled practitioner of playback theatre and co-founded the Montreal-based Living Histories Ensemble. Born in Rwanda, she has served the Rwandan diaspora in North America for more than 20 years as an organizer, researcher and activist. Her extensive experimentation with storytelling, play and improvised theatre aims for individual and collective meaning-making and empowerment in the aftermath of large-scale political violence.
Courtney Kirkby of Tiger Lotus Wellness Co-operative.
Courtney Kirkby & Tiger Lotus: Cooperative Models and Collective Healing
Courtney Kirkby spoke on behalf of the Tiger Lotus Co-op, discussing the ways in which alternative access models for complementary medicine can reach under-served populations, and reduce the load on an overburdened provincial health system. Courtney described how Tiger Lotus was partially inspired by Forward House, an assisted living centre and non-profit organization founded in 1957 that provides a wide range of programs and services to adults who have experienced or are experiencing severe psychiatric difficulties.
As a cooperative, the politics of governance and services at Tiger Lotus provides a creative alternative to normative, capitalist models of resource distribution. Through projects like Community Healing Days, the co-op offers sliding scale fees, enabling access to services like osteopathy and acupuncture for marginalized and lower-income populations.
During our Performative Discussion on burnout in November at Studio 303, participants discussed the need for clinics that specifically cater to artists’ needs, and take seriously services such as psychotherapy, acupuncture, and massage. These services are often seen as frivolous and not covered by provincial healthcare, and yet are crucial within a more preventative approach to care.
Courtney discussed how current Western models of healthcare prioritize allopathic medicine, which focuses on pills and surgery, and relies on antibiotics that can cause further harm or create dependency. Courtney also described how the provincial healthcare system becomes overburdened when people are dependent on doctors for all forms of service. Without accessible alternatives or preventative care services, wait times for doctors in Quebec are among the longest in Canada.
Another barrier for accessing healthcare services is the stigma and oppression that often comes with clinical services, where power is almost exclusively held by medical institutions and police. As one audience member described, the individual seeking care must essentially surrender their agency to “be a good patient” — treated as a “client” or an object to be worked on. Tiger Lotus thus emerged from the need to move on from critiquing ineffective systems, to building tangible alternatives to the privatized medical system.
Lisa Ndejuru: Body as Intelligence
Artistic approaches to care that center storytelling are also often overlooked as valid and important ways to explore both the source of pain and strategies for wellbeing. Lisa Ndejuru‘s work has examined the ways in which political violence resonates within the everyday, affecting both individuals and communities. With a background in Social Presencing Theatre (Presencing Institute) and Playback Theatre, Lisa confronts the emotional and intergenerational impacts of war through practices of embodied listening in order to, as she describes, “make visible the many silences we live with”.
Throughout the Creative Resilience series, we often talked about how some artistic processes or forms of care are considered “valid”, while others are dismissed. We also explored how deeply personal, and community-based learning and resource-sharing are often at odds with the hard, economic reality of living under capitalism. By asking, “What can the body offer as a form of knowledge?”, storytelling methods can be used to deal with traumatic emotional or physical experiences to foster a type of well-being that is both integrative and community-based, rather than institutional.
Lisa Ndejuru’s personal practice in theatre and therapy has delved into the challenges of “proving” this validity, which often means translating emotional experience into something “scientific”, and easy to measure and consume. These power dynamics are reflected in educational structures, medical and therapeutic institutions, and through disciplinary agendas. The therapeutic, she described, is isolating and objectifying. When scholars dissect issues of historical and emotional trauma, she continued, they often create further divisions between people by isolating, or atomizing, sources of trauma.
Echoing some of the issues Courtney discussed around allopathic medicine, this divisive analysis often portrays issues as stemming from a single underlying cause. Lisa spoke about the importance of understanding “how trauma unravels” through a historical continuum, where a person’s decisions are informed by generations of social pressures and histories of colonization. By centering personal stories and community-based knowledge, healing can happen through a process of witnessed care.
Aimee Louw: Imagining Futures
Having looked at how artistic approaches to storytelling can be a way of holding space, we turned our attention to how creating and normalizing accessible spaces is an essential act of community care. Montreal-based journalist and author Aimee Louw has written about accessibility and disability justice for Canadian publications including Ricochet, The Walrus, and Canadaland.
One impetus for this series was to further investigate the ways in which precarious labour, gig-economies, and under-valuation of artists’ work are harmful for artists’ emotional and physical well-being. Aimee has previously written about federal disability law and how Canadian legislation has focused on accessibility through a framework of “employability”. Responding to former Minister Carla Qualtrough’s comments on prioritizing employability, Aimee Louw wrote for Ricochet,
“Many organizations applauded the approach outlined in Qualtrough’s comments. Other disability advocates expressed concern about employment as the focus for the legislation, fearing that this could further marginalize people who are less “productive” according to capitalist standards.”
In her Walrus Talk, “The Future is Accessible“, Aimee also referred to the ways in which this “utilitarian view of human bodies” means that people are valued only for their productivity. Aimee described how inaccessibility has significant social impacts: daily microaggressions accumulate into anger and isolation. The energy to fight for policy change takes time away from creating and practicing art. Through the Creative Resilience series, some of these issues were especially prominent in our discussion on burnout at Studio 303 in November 2019.
Within artistic disciplines, Aimee described, disability arts are often misconstrued as “therapeutic” rather than situated within the framework of the artist’s medium, as any other art. Shifting the social understanding of accessibility needs to go beyond selective, structural accommodation like ramps and navigation. By shifting the perception of accessibility away from “integration and accommodation” toward transformation, disability justice becomes a creative practice of imagining truly inclusive futures.
Aimee is currently developing a writing workshop for Montreal, grounded in accessibility politics. More information on this workshop is forthcoming from ELAN!