AHA! 2021 Chair Report

   Arts Health Antigonish (AHA!) 2021 Chair Report                                    Feb 17, 2022

2021 continued to bring change and disruption to how we live, work and recreate, fostering patience, personal growth and resilience, while also encouraging us to discover new ways to engage with the arts. For AHA!, this meant addressing the persistent challenges in how we gather, how we deliver programs and in how we engage participants in our programs.

At St. Martha’s Regional Hospital (SMRH), Shelley Long continued to offer Art Care, contributing to the wellbeing of those who found themselves on the oncology, mental health and geriatric units. Therapeutic outcomes highlighted by Shelley include improved socialization, reduction in symptoms of anxiety, stress, rumination, nausea and pain, and the fostering of joy and creativity.  Unfortunately, Shelley had to back away again in December due to the arrival of the Omicron variant, but she expects to be back at work this month. As her funding will be exhausted later this year, AHA! is currently seeking funding to extend her position. Shelley is unable to be with us today, but her report is included in your attachments.

AHA!’s photography project continues to be enjoyed on the Palliative Care Unit at SMRH, with another two years in our contract with NSHealth.

Also at SMRH, AHA! helped to navigate the creation of a 6-month pilot music therapy position on the Palliative Care Unit. I am pleased to let you know that the position has been funded and finalized, and the new music therapist will begin next week.

AHA! was delighted to offer Art Larks! in 2021, a virtual arts-based series of programs for seniors, funded by a New Horizons for Seniors grant and coordinated for AHA! by Rachel Power. Participants were offered a wide variety of daily arts programs facilitated by artists across the province (and farther afield) for about 24 weeks last year and 6 weeks in 2022. Participating seniors seem to have loved engaging in this way and many relied on it for socialization. AHA! has applied for funding to continue this program through 2022. Rachel will give a more detailed report shortly.

In November, AHA! offered a playshop for school-aged youth in partnership with the Nutrition Dept at StFX and led by StFX nutrition interns. Those who participated enjoyed themselves immensely and requested more such opportunities. AHA! also forged a new partnership with ‘la Société acadienne Saint-Croix’ in Pomquet, offering a French-language watercolour playshop with Vicki Palmer. This was well-attended and well-received. La Société St Croix is keen to explore further opportunities to offer French arts programs in the Pomquet community.

We were excited that AHA!’s online spell-kit, Spellbound by Nature, found new life through Rodney Tate’s photography exhibit at the StFX Art Gallery last fall. Curator Andrea Terry used QR codes to link relevant ‘spells’ to the photographs, opening up our virtual gallery to a new audience. Thank you, Andrea! In 2022, the spell-kit will be shared with local school children through new partnerships with the Arts Smarts and Writers in the Schools programs, which will be funding artists and poets in collaborating with teachers to offer virtual nature programming. Many thanks to Nancy Turniawan and Anne Simpson, who are helping to facilitate these partnerships and support artists in delivering their virtual programs.

AHA! has begun reviewing past programs and projects, their successes and lessons learned, trying to ascertain whether further related projects or knowledge mobilization activities might be worthwhile. The new Spellbound partnerships with ArtsSmarts and WITS are a result of this reflection. We are also actively seeking funding for knowledge mobilization opportunities for Arts Canopy, our 4 years of arts-based programming for people living with dementia that ended in 2020.

2022 will be our 10th year of bringing arts-health programming to the Antigonish community. Over these years, AHA! has learned valuable lessons about training and supporting artists in arts-health work and stabilizing employment for artists. We are privileged to live in a community that offers many diverse arts activities and performances, as we know that engagement in the arts helps to make our community healthier and more resilient. Among the many lessons that the pandemic has taught us, is a recognition that any one of us can become ‘vulnerable’, whether through illness, stress or isolation, and that we all need to be engaged with the arts for our personal wellbeing.  In the coming years, AHA! will continue our work of ‘fostering creative expression for community health’, with our focus being with those who are vulnerable in our community.

My immense gratitude to all who supported AHA! in navigating the continued challenges of 2021. Thanks to those who contributed to Art Larks, Art Care, Spellbound and the November playshops; thanks to participants of AHA! programs. And my heartfelt gratitude to the AHA! team, who behind the scenes, help with logistics, payroll, grant writing, communications, and in numerous other ways support this movement.

Liz Brennan,
Chair, AHA!