Art in hard times – Young artists use creativity to cope with COVID-19

By: Jack McCaskill, Communications volunteer, Canadian Red Cross
“The thing that keeps me most grounded in and excited about this work is creating relationships,” says Michelle Peek, Executive Director and Founder of Art Not Shame.
Art Not Shame is a non-profit serving youth and young adults in Guelph, Ontario by creating supportive and transformational social spaces through arts-based programming that facilitates inner-exploration.
Recognizing the increased need for mental health support during the pandemic, Art Not Shame successfully applied to the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund administered by the Canadian Red Cross and launched “The Mural Project: Art in Hard Times” in the summer of 2020.
The Mural Project aimed to build community through art and to amplify the voices of those who identify as: newcomers, LGBTQ21+, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, street engaged, adults with developmental exceptionalities, and/or youth struggling with mental health and addictions.
Mural created by digital artists

Art Not Shame, an Ontario-based non-profit used funding from the Government of Canada, distributed by the Canadian Red Cross, to launch The Mural Project: Art in Hard Times. The project brought together young, local artists to create this digital mural while also building connections and reducing social isolation during COVID-19.

Over six weeks, lead artist Melanie Schambach, led a wide range of participants through creative exercises in order to design a digital mural and in the process built connections between participants, developed a better understanding of how they are affected by the pandemic, and encouraged their creativity. Additionally, five community leaders shared their experiences and perspectives with participants; artists referred to as exchangers contributed to the mural and facilitated virtual events; and ten art buddies provided guidance to smaller groups of participants as they contributed to the mural.
“With this mural, we wanted to be real about the issues we are facing at this moment,” says Schambach during the official unveiling of the mural which provides participants the opportunity to present their art and explain how they use it to express their views on topics such as social justice, the environment and community. “We have to be willing to look at the truth, both the ugly and the beautiful,” says Joni NehRita, a musician participating in the project, while speaking about themes included in the mural.
Screenshot of a painted fish an artist contributed to the mural

Ontario-based artist Peter Howlett contributed his painting of a fish to The Mural Project: Art in Hard Times.

The Mural Project has proven a success. A majority of participants say the workshops allowed them to process what is going on in the world, learn something new about themselves, contribute to a social movement, and helped reduce their social isolation during COVID-19.
“As a visual artist it’s wonderful to be part of this project. There are so many people, they are all creative, and they all have their own inner beauty,” says local artist Peter Howlett while presenting a colourful painting of a fish that he contributed to the mural. “I view life as a river and that we are all fish on the river,” he continues. “No matter how crazy the rapids of life get, we can all do it together.”
The Canadian Red Cross is funding the continuation of this work thanks to the generous support of the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund granting program.
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