It has been a busy time for us. As you know, we're just a small volunteer-run organization that operates on the hours between full-time work, mom life and running our businesses. It's impressive that in less than a year we have been able to accomplish so much with so little.
This past summer, we were able to send a volunteer A.R.T. Educator and a core member of our team up to Arviat, Nunavut to facilitate a ten day workshop. The experience provided us with insight into the complexity of the situation for youth living in Arviat. It gave us a broader understanding of what is lacking in terms of resources and programs. Our workshop brought in a younger age group than we were expecting and while we always plan to do multiple art forms, the nature of our work is that we end up going with the flow of the participants.
That means, if they only want to paint then they can. Sara managed to incorporate paper sculpting, painting on found objects, print-making and for the last half of the program, youth were able to collaborate and paint two murals. We also were able to pay youth for their submissions into the annual A.R.T. Magazine. It's a new project that we've quietly been working on, like we do with many things until they are ready, but feel free to poke around.
Day 1- "Later on, a few youth entered who appeared to be teen-aged. They were extremely shy and when I attempted to engage them in a painting lesson, they responded that they preferred to work with the materials informally. In my experience, community arts projects survive on flexibility and the willingness to allow for spontaneity and change so I’m not one to push. Especially in these early stages of trying to build trust and relationships with the participants, allowing for choice and the right to pass are essential." - Sara's journal
Sara kept a journal of her time up there. It invoked such a strong emotion in me that immediately I wished I had been there and that we could remain there longer.
Day 2 - "Today, one of the youth I had encountered yesterday, a 16 year old who is deaf, was distraught by something. She wanted to participate but told another participant, that she had had a nightmare and was feeling unwell. She was clearly feeling very upset and I wished I could talk to her, but she was very shy and communication was, naturally, an obstacle.
She left a note in her sketchbook that read, in English, “I wish I had ear that I can hear.”
It was heartbreaking.
It seemed so intimately personal and yet, I think she left it for us to read. She wanted to communicate her pain to us in not being able to be included in the conversation. Not knowing either Inuktitut or ASL was a barrier for us but we were trying our best. She came for the evening session and the first thing she painted was an entirely black canvas.
Immediately I saw red flags and was very concerned for her, but as the evening progressed, she eventually came around. She hadn’t been willing to sign the consent form but she enjoyed playing with my Snapchat app and kept taking silly selfies of myself and her with little messages about how she would miss us when we left.
Her sister came later and was very helpful, acting as translator. It was wonderful to see her more in her element and happy." - Sara's journal
Day 5 - "As we were working, one youth told me about how her uncle committed suicide just last winter, at the age of 18 – he hadn’t yet even completed high school. I asked her if she knew a lot of people who had suffered the same fate and she raised her eyebrows and nodded. She said it’s a big problem here. Many people succumb to their feelings of isolation and despair in the hamlets. This desperate situation I often read about became very real." - Sara's journal
Reading through it, it's clear to us that the work we want to do in Arviat is extremely important. We aren't just there to make art and provide programming, we're there to be a positive influence in the lives of the youth, to listen and to show them there are people that care.
But we can only do that if we're able to continue to go up and be involved. As many experienced educators in this line of work know, when you pop into someone's life and disappear as quickly as you came, you're just proving to them they can't trust anyone. You're reminding them that they can't get close to anyone because that person will just abandon them eventually.
Although our number of participants were lower than anticipated, we were excited that youth came out. We were able to feed them, paint with them and talk with them. We paid out youth for their art work and now two beautiful murals are part of Arviat.
The truth is that it's never about the numbers for us. When we apply for grants, often they are interested in how many participants were involved. How many came and showed up and this determines if the project is worth funding. We're still small but we're mighty and we understand more than ever that numbers aren't what matter most. If we can touch even one person's life through art, then we are doing our job. Regardless of whether or not we have twenty people show up or two, or if we're government funded or not, we'll still continue A.R.T. In Action because we know we do make a difference.
There is so much we have learned in Arviat for next time.
Yes, you heard right - the next time. Because we're going up again.. and again... and again. Last week we had a meeting with the Hamlet of Arviat and we're REALLY EXCITED to announce our permanent, long-term partnership agreement with the Hamlet of Arviat and the Government of Nunavut. And yes we have that in writing, for real though. Currently we are developing a longer program (hopefully a month or more) for next year. Our understanding is that in the winter months, programming is needed more than ever. Our goal for the future, is to be able to train and pay a local arts facilitator to keep our program going for the time periods that we are unable to be there and while we have many, many hours of work ahead, we're inspired more than ever.
To everyone that continues to support us, thank you. Thank you to Sara Bessin for being part of our first satellite program and a very special thank you to Keith and Michelle for making sure that we can continue our relationship with the youth in Arviat. We are so excited to come back!