by Anne Simpson
(First published in The Highland Heart. Dec 10, 2015)
It was Noella Murphy’s idea for Arts Health Antigonish (AHA!) to raise funds by publishing a colouring book to which Antigonish area artists might contribute. Noella herself offered two pieces for the book. Colouring Antigonish was launched on Saturday, November 14th, amid brisk sales at the Antigonish Farmers’ Market, the Oland Centre, and at a fundraising event – Play Along with AHA! – at St. James United Church. In all, about 150 colouring books were sold that day alone.
Hundreds of colouring books have now been sold. AHA! has undertaken another print run of Colouring Antigonish to meet the holiday rush, available for $20. at Antigonish Five to a Dollar, the Gift Corner at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, Lyghtesome Gallery, Pachamama’s, the Made in Nova Scotia Store and Aphrodite.
Noella Murphy grew up in Antigonish and studied at NSCAD and at theatre school in Ireland. She has been actively involved with AHA! since its inception. Once a week over the course of two years, she facilitated a program in visual arts at the Mental Health Unit at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital for AHA! She was also involved as an actor in The Road Home, a dramatic production staged by The Eldertree Project, an AHA! initiative for elders.
What makes Colouring Antigonish special is that so many local artists contributed to making it a success. Well-known area artists like Anna Syperek, Kate Brown-Georgallas, and Maureen St. Clair, to name only a few, contributed artwork for the colouring book. A high school student, Sophie Lawrence, St. Francis Xavier University Education student, Celeigh Barber-Russell, and L’Arche artists Anthony Burns, Kelly Farrel, and Tommy Landry also contributed drawings.
AHA! is a non-profit that recognizes and fosters the interplay between creativity and wellness, promotes education through the arts as a way to health, and assists young artists in a wide range of arts to further their potential. It seems fitting that AHA! celebrates Arts Health Month each November. As one of its founding members, Dr. John Graham-Pole, points out: “Art taps, for each of us, whatever our circumstances, a deep well of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. It is indispensable to our lives, and to our total health.”
Proceeds from Colouring Antigonish will go towards arts health programming in the community, building on initiatives like Thundertales, a storytelling program through the arts for youth at Paqtnkek and Antigonish, and The Eldertree Project, which involved the gathering of stories and songs from elders in the R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home and Highland-Crest Home. AHA! has also supported a music therapist who became established in a position at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital and in community high schools. Currently, AHA! is supporting a year-long pilot program in expressive arts therapy in the hospital and community.