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ELAN ArtEd: Connecting & Creating with Artists, Youth & Families to Support Mental Health

By Christie Huff, Lead Learner at ELAN ArtEd

We’ve been through many weeks of “The Things We Didn’t Choose”, although Rob Lutes didn’t write the song for COVID-19, it’s been helpful to me as I struggled with my roles and the uncertainty in this challenging time. In lieu of an in-person tour of three Gaspé schools planned for March, Rob’s skills in facilitating songwriting experiences with youth contributed to the virtual program we piloted in April. While we look forward to schools opening and welcoming our Artists in person, we are exploring all of the ways we can connect Artists with youth and families to provide arts and culture activities.

Lead Learner Christie Huff & musician Guillaume Jabbour’s Zoom meeting, connecting with Artists to plan virtual workshops.

Before schools closed, 14 Artists who participated in a training program for adults who work with youth funded by the Community Health & Social Services Network were scheduled to facilitate creative experiences with students. The feedback from Artists and Educators made it very clear that the niche the art-making experience creates enables youth to express themselves in ways they do not typically in school. There is a positive impact on the teacher-student relationship and on student-peer relationships.  The time the Artist spends with teachers and students is motivating, meaningful and fun!

When school closures were announced, we offered Artists support and opportunities to connect virtually to share their experience and consider how they can make a difference. We encouraged all of our Artists to reach out to schools, teachers, and youth they had interacted with this year to say hello, offer to connect virtually, and share a message empathizing and expressing care.

While we have many stories to tell each month, we’re featuring a few Artists whose work was outstanding in developing practice for ArtEd.


Theatre & Role Play for Education

Tina Bye, an artist with a Fine Arts degree in theatre design, an Education Degree with the teachables of Visual and Performing Arts, and a Master’s Degree in Drama Therapy, developed a program to prepare Cycle 3 students to animate a recess program (Quebec schools now have 3 recess periods/day). Based on an example of a Recess Rangers program in Ontario applying Restorative Justice practices and using students as mediators, students are coached on intervening in bullying situations and social disputes using theatre techniques through role play and audience feed-back. These activities address social development needs of students, an integral part of every Quebec school’s Educational Project. Tina Bye also worked with two schools using the Zones of Regulation model, using performing arts skills, to help students integrate at a behavioral level. Based on this experience, she will run a workshop for other Theatre / Movement Artists who work with schools using this model that is approved by the Centre for Excellence for Mental Health.

Photo: Recess Rangers vests by Tina


Music in the Laurentians

To give youth living in the Laurentians an artistic outlet and a voice during these uncertain times, songwriter and musician Guillaume Jabbour has restructured the format of the high school songwriting club at Sainte Agathe Academy into remote workshops. Twice a week, participants connect virtually to learn from each other, share respective music projects and work on their craft. Guillaume listens to each student and provides suggestions for how to keep moving forward.

Guillaume says of the program, “Some students are making beats, some are practicing their instruments and others are writing rap lyrics. In terms of an ArtEd experience, it’s amazing because each student can do their own thing if they want and we’re all working at the same time. Some students have already started connecting outside our meeting times to share beats. We always start off with a check-in conversation to make sure everyone is ok, but then we direct our energy into the music. I listen and then if a student needs guidance to get to the next step, I provide suggestions based on my knowledge as a songwriter and musician. The ELAN ArtEd team was super helpful in making this happen quickly. They supported me in adapting my program and in figuring out the logistics. The club runs until early June, the same as the in-person club would have.”


Release the Gaspesians!

Image of musicians Ronnie Leblanc and Laura Teasedale: Release the Gaspesians! debuted April 3rd and ran daily for the entire month with Ronnie Leblanc and Laura Teasdale. Release the Gaspesians! debuted April 3rd and ran daily for the entire month with Ronnie Leblanc and Laura Teasdale.

In a quick response to the need for social distancing, Ronnie Leblanc and Laura Teasdale collaborated to transform what would have been a month-long residency involving all of the teachers and students from New Richmond and New Carlisle Schools, into a daily live-stream art show to connect with students, families and community members. The Release the Gaspesians! series includes daily drama and music exercises, story-telling, fine art challenges, and even ukulele lessons on-line!  In addition, Ronnie and Laura garnered valuable inspiration from speaking over the phone and virtually with seniors, elders and community pillars. Once released from the confines of social distancing, Laura and Ronnie will present a live on-stage concert using the ideas from the community.

Laura Teasdale says this project has proven to be life changing. “I had to adapt and re-think techniques and exercises that I have been doing so long, they had become second nature. It took a lot of brain power to learn to instruct without being there to literally take a child’s hand and put their fingers on the strings in the frets. To inspire someone to want to play a game without just modeling the behavior was a special challenge…  So grateful for this strange and beautiful experience.”

Watch an episode of Release the Gaspesians! by clicking here.


Looking Forward…

Whether we connect in-person or virtually, and despite the uncertainty of times ahead, we know for certain that Artists are needed and that Art helps us to get through challenging times. We also know that coming out of this crisis, Artists will need additional training to facilitate ArtistsInspire experiences. After the social quarantine, children and youth will be trying to make sense of their world. We believe that art can help mediate their experiences, allow for creative self-expression, and help them to connect, benefiting their health, learning and overall well-being.

We are here for you and we’ll find a way to support you to Connect, Create, Collaborate & Celebrate!

To learn about all of the amazing ArtistsInspire experiences that have been facilitated in schools across the province, please visit the Stories & News section of our website,  www.artistsinspire.ca

Please keep in touch virtually by following us on Facebook & Instagram @ELANArtEd. We encourage you to stay connected as we support each other through these times.