The Creativity and Social Engagement Course was introduced last year in the Foundation Visual Arts program. Erica Stanley, one of the instructors, shares a project developed by students in this course.

In last year’s spring session, the Foundation Visual Arts (FVA) students in the Creativity and Social Engagement course created and developed an arts-based activity to bring awareness to social/political/environmental issue that they felt strongly about. One of the main goals of this project was for students to identify what they care about, and how they can use art, craft and design in order to make positive change within a community. Since social engagement activities often include individuals who face barriers in accessing the arts, during last year’s class we focused on introducing introductory techniques to those with no artistic or craft-based training.

Three of these students created a project around mental health, bringing awareness to the fact that everyone is impacted (directly or indirectly) by mental illness. For the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week, I invited these students to come and try out their project, presenting a portion of it to the new FVA cohort in this year’s Creative Process and Social Engagement course.

These three brave, now first-year, Diploma students are Jasmine Hildebrandt, Amy MacDonald, and Steve Hildebrandt. They did a fantastic job explaining their project and engaging the new FVA students in the opportunity to use craft and care to create bracelets that identify the mental illnesses that have affected each student. They used a specific colour of string for 10 mental illnesses. They directed the students to come up and choose the colours associated with mental illnesses that they have been affected by themselves or through a friend or family member.

In collecting these colours and braiding them together they are then able to look around the room and see that everyone in the Lecture hall is affected by mental illness. There was a sense of community and shared experience created. As they braided, they were asked to share things that they each do in order to ‘fill up their cup’ and help maintain positive mental health.

Jasmine also created a video – DIY style with lovely music and a voice-over – on how to braid. She encouraged asking your neighbour for help and instruction, further creating community and connection with the other students around the table. You can see that video here.

The students concluded this presentation by recognizing that we are all effected by Mental Illness, and we all have mental health to maintain. It is possible to use even simple introductory techniques paired with accessible materials to create dialogue on issues that matter to you. Projects do not need to be big or expensive to have an impact. You can make small changes and create positive ripple effects that lead to more small, positive changes.