ELAN’s Mental Health Initiative: Bringing People Together Through Art

What does being a teaching artist mean to you?

“A classroom loud with ideas
Surprising themselves with what they are able to do…”

Excerpt of collective poem by the Child & Pre-teen Mental Health Initiative group

Bringing People Of All AgesTogether Through Art

Teaching Artists’ primary task is to connect with people through art. As in many helping professions, this task comes with challenges that are as individual as the students in each workshop.

Helpers also need help. In a field where there are little to no professional development opportunities, ELAN’s 2023-24 Mental Health Initiative offered workshops and individual coaching sessions addressing mental health issues to 44 Teaching Artists working with children & pre-teens (ages 5-14), youth (ages 15-29) and older adults (ages 55+).

Facilitated by Teaching Artist and social worker Alyssa Kuzmarov and music therapist Andy MacDonald, workshops and coaching sessions addressed:

  • Non-violent communication,
  • Inclusion, diversity and cultural competencies,
  • Working with neurodivergent participants,
  • Social isolation and loneliness,
  • Self-care as a facilitator, and more.

Helping Teaching Artists Help

Teaching Artists commenting on increased confidence and skills these workshops brought them, as well an appreciation for community support in a field in which they frequently practice alone. As participant Nina Drew noted,

“Having a support group of other artist professionals who are actively learning to better understand the challenges their students are currently facing helped me become a better [Teaching Artist]. I went from dreading the emotional challenges of my students to feeling equipped to face them with patience and kindness.”

This learning helps Teaching Artists design and facilitate workshops that tap into the potential of the arts for personal and community growth, and for pure fun. As project lead Louise Campbell writes,

“The moments we share with youth as Teaching Artists may feel fleeting, but I know from stories told to me by artists, teachers, parents and youth themselves that the time spent being creative is vital. The impacts of Teachings Artists engaging with youth range from sharing playfulness and fun to learning something new, and helping foster youth self-esteem, self-expression, and ability to imagine their future and place in society in the long term.”

Teaching And Learning Through Art

A testament to the passion Teaching Artists feel for their work, Alyssa Kuzmarov and the participants in the Child & Pre-teen Mental Health Initiative wrote the following collective poem in response to the question ‘What does being a teaching artist mean to you?’:

Teaching artists

Twinkle in a kid’s eye
Opening space for fun
A brave reconnection to your own intuition

Finding the heart in art
Expanding possibility, awareness of possibility
Learning through play
And picking up the pieces

A classroom loud with ideas
Surprising themselves with what they are able to do
Experimenting together

Building a sense of self
Making all things new
Transforming together
Combined mosaic of all of us

I didn’t know this existed
Finding empathy to embrace
Shining our light to help others shine theirs

To connect with Teaching Artists who have received CHSSN training, search the ArtistsInspire roster by the criteria ‘Include only Artists with CHSSN Mental Health Initiative training’. We look forward to supporting you, your schools and your community organizations through projects that are informed by this mental health training.

ELAN’s Mental Health Initiative is funded by the Community Health And Social Services Network (CHSSN), the Government of Quebec’s Secrétariat à la jeunesse, the Lucie and André Chagnon Foundation and the Public Health Agency of Canada. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the Public Health Agency of Canada, CHSSN or the funders.

Older Adults enjoying a singing workshop with Teaching Artist Dina Cindric
Wiinebekuu School students working on film project with Teaching Artist Derek Olive
Farnham Elementary School student artwork in project with Teaching Artist Rebecca Soulis