Art With A Heart came into being in September of 2009. Born out of a deeply spiritual vision, a group of friends had been playing with the idea of forming a charity, then an urgency came, and a compassionate desire to effect their community and their world for good using the arts as the influencing catalyst for change in people’s lives. Almost immediately (less than 22 hours) after registering as a not for profit (NFP) group, the opportunity was given to become a charity. Our charitable corporation was born, and within a year, we had full Canadian Charitable status.
A week after being established in 2009, we had a community agency contact us to ask if we were willing to work with a group of at-risk and already in corrections youth to run the first of 2 very successful 16-week programs, culminating in an amazing art showcase and auction for over 20 young individuals in Durham Region.
These youth spent many weeks trying a variety of art mediums, from sculpture to wirework, and modern batik art to paintings. They learned the business of art and how to promote themselves, wrote biographies and artist statements, and described their created work. The program enabled them to built self-esteem, new skills, and an increased concept of self and self-worth. This process also helped the youth build relationships with one another, sharing difficult life stories, hearing commonalities they could identify with, and finding a peer support system. Finally, each youth selected one finished piece to enter in the art show. The show was an amazing success, as was the program, and all of the youth received recognition and bursaries from the auctioning off of their artwork. The program was very well received, and we were asked back in 2010/11 to run a similar program for the youth.
We realized in the process of the first few years and the clients we engaged with, that we did not have the full skillset developed that we felt we needed to hold and facilitate groups from such difficult backgrounds. A number of us felt a need to retrain and broaden our skill set to a more therapeutic and informed practice in order to expand these groups and the work of the charity. Our original thought that as artists we could change the world through art programs alone shifted into a clearer focus that combined all the arts, movement, and expressive art therapies. As time went on, a group of talented and dedicated and highly skilled facilitators/therapists began to emerge from our group and became the core of most of our programs. A number of those individuals have now become Registered Psychotherapists with specialties in their area of training (Expressive Arts Therapists, Dance & Movement Therapists, etc.)
We have worked with many amazing community partners through both short and long-term projects and programs (Muslim Welfare Home, The Refuge Youth Outreach, Fairview Lodge Long-Term Care Facility, Courts of Brooklin Retirement Centre, Glenhill Strathaven Retirement Centres, CMHA, Bishop Fisher’s Skills Link Program, The Lighthouse Retreat Ajax, Durham Family Court Clinic (DFCC), Life Church, W.I.N.G.S. Maternity Home, Rose of Durham, Autism Ontario Durham, Hearth Place Cancer Support Centre, various summer camp programs in low-income neighbourhoods, and more).
We have developed curriculum and launched our own programs: BRAVE, Connect & Create, Let’s Create, The In-Between, The Legacy Project, CANVAS (DFCC).
We continue to try to stay attuned to the needs within our community, and the needs of individuals we encounter, to develop Expressive Arts based programs that act as a catalyst for deeper self-awareness, that increase self esteem, bring about healing, and expand the meaning of being part of a community in these peoples lives.