Creative Connections

By John Guido with Tricia Hayes and Gray Gillies

Patrick McGrath, a talented musician and master-of-puns, has come along way in the past three years. Recently, he said, “I’ve grown as an artist… Before Creative Connections started, I wouldn’t touch a paintbrush.” Today, he’s painting, drawing, and exploring other media. He hasn’t lost his love of wordplay, but he’s just as likely to express his wit through art. The other day someone asked, “What are you drawing Patrick?” He said, “I drew my phone. I’m drawing it in the style of Van Gogh.”

At Creative Connections, we get to see people’s gifts shine and be stretched and grow in different ways that we’ve never seen before. Each of the 20 artists with intellectual disabilities is growing not only creatively, but personally too – building friendships, becoming more positive and outgoing. There’s a great sense of belonging here. We’re just a bunch of people following our passions and creating together. We love being in a space that’s so creative, so joyful.

It’s not a charitable interaction but a new identity based on belonging, inclusion, and diversity.

It’s also a space that is highly visible: one wall is made of windows and we’re on one of the busiest, most vibrant streets in Saint John. People are compelled to come in because they see art in the window. Whether local artists, our friends and neighbours, or just someone passing by, they get to see persons with disabilities in a new way. The members with disabilities welcome visitors into a space that’s uniquely theirs – the walls are covered with things they’re proud of. Krista Simmons will say proudly, “I’m an artist.” It’s not a charitable interaction but a new identity based on belonging, inclusion, and diversity.

Creating a safe space

We are the public face of L’Arche, but we’ve learned that there have to be limits. If someone stops by, we invite them to join us at the table to make art, but we no longer advertise that we’re a drop-in centre and don’t offer classes to the public. That led to chaos. High levels of noise and activity aren’t helpful for the people we support.

For true inclusion, it’s sometimes better not to go wide, welcoming everyone to belong, but to go deep in order to be respectful and honest about the people you’re here for. Because we work with vulnerable persons, guidelines need to be in place. We’ve welcomed people who in other situations have had the police called because of their interactions. It’s different here. It’s an environment where they feel safe and welcome. It brings out their best selves.

Creative Connections is a place where people can feel a deeper sense of “I’m enough.”

What we offer at Creative Connections is a place where people can feel a deeper sense of “I’m enough.” That’s a tender, delicate movement of the most important piece of you, and it needs to be protected. For us, that protection is real, meaningful relationships where there’s honest feedback and accountability. There are people here who would not be creating art if they didn’t have these relationships. Art is always risky. It’s taking something important and putting it out there. You can’t do that in a shallow way.

Sharing life in community

L’Arche is all about sharing life, learning and growing together. Some of the members of Creative Connections need to be here because they haven’t found many spaces where they belong. It’s an important part of their time with us even if it is just for a few hours a week.

There’s a lot of being together around the table. That’s when connections happen between people. We share lunch and tea breaks there. There’s a constant back and forth with the same jokes, the same puns. After we eat, some people will break out a word search or their music, but most of us play UNO. We can be very competitive!

Sometimes our feast is not food. Sometimes, it’s paint. Sometimes, it’s joking, UNO, and cookies. And there’s openness and gratitude for each other.

On birthdays, we follow the L’Arche custom of “passing the candle” to share what we like about the person we’re celebrating. People look forward to it and will rearrange their schedules to be there. Sometimes people have tears in their eyes – there aren’t many places where we hear how much we’re appreciated.

Sometimes our feast is not food. Sometimes, it’s paint. Sometimes, it’s joking, UNO, and cookies. And there’s openness and gratitude for each other. We’re not together all the time, but when we are we’re constantly feasting together. It’s a distillation of L’Arche community life.

Opening up each person’s creativity

The art springs from the experience of belonging. Here is what the artists say:

Danielle: “Art keeps me calm, occupied, and it’s really fun. I’ve grown as an artist by trying new things, like digital art. I get to be with friends. I’m always laughing… Sometimes I have a hard time with my drawings, but you guys help.”

Warren: “I think God put me on the planet to make people happy through my art. My drawings have improved since really getting into it at Creative… It’s a place where I can express myself freely and creatively. It gives me a lot of opportunities- like going to Newfoundland (to help lead a L’Arche retreat).”

Jacques: “Art is a hobby I like to do and I love making art for others to enjoy. The word “creative” allows me to be creative! I love drawing pictures, hanging with my friends and playing UNO.”

Krista: “Art makes me feel proud and happy. I’ve grown as an artist by trying new techniques. I love cleaning.”

The art springs from the experience of belonging

Yunnery: “I really like creating art by painting and colouring. I’ve grown as an artist a lot because this is the first time I’ve really painted. I enjoy coming to Creative Connections because it opened me up more.”

Anne (a volunteer): “I’ve grown as an artist by trying new things. It can be overwhelming at first since it is such a small place.” She appreciates the “fellowship and opportunities to meet new people.”

A springboard for inclusion

The artists love the connections they’re making in Uptown Saint John and beyond through their art. Danielle said, “It connects me to the wider community of Saint John by selling and showing my art in Creative Connections and in shows.” Warren has done an interview with the Telegraph Journal. Jacques appreciates that many people see his art at the studio and on social media. Krista said, “People love my art and it connects me to the wider community by gifting my art to other organizations and through our shows. Tourists from all over (including from cruise ships) come by our studio and buy my art.”

Here are some of the activities that promote meaningful inclusion:

  • We do “city walks” with a photographer, Gillian Barfoot, where we explore Saint John and learn about light and shadow, close-up, black and white, etc.
  • We work occasionally with other professional artists and passionate amateurs when they are able to volunteer their time.
  • Different school groups come in for an art session. It’s great to see our folk welcoming the kids, modeling art making, and affirming them. Once a boy proudly declared, “I have autism.” It’s a space where it’s cool to have a disability.
  • Every week we have a program co-lead with the public library when the artists choose a topic they’d like to know more about. The librarian helps put together a presentation. And then we do a piece of art in response. One librarian said, “When you guys come it’s my favorite time of the week.”
  • We create postcards called ‘love letters’ to raise money for local charities.
  • We produce prints for NB Box “a carefully curated line of gift boxes filled with the best locally made New Brunswick products.”
  • We’ve begun a mural at a local coffee shop that benefits a local homeless shelter.
  • With the New Brunswick Association for Community, we host the Everything Party, a social time to explore each other’s interests and passions; and create custom art pieces for individuals moving into independent living.
  • We do individual commissions like Krista’s piece for the Lieutenant Governor, custom phone cases, and works for individuals and local non-profits.

Creative Connections is a space where art is the fruit of friendship, belonging, and personal growth nurturing connections and vibrant, inclusive community in Saint John.

Tricia Hayes (left) and Gray Gillies Mott (right) are the team who help create a welcoming space and support the artists of Creative Connections.


Life’s Tough Obstacles

It was late June. A park in Edmonton had been reserved. Food was stacked on picnic tables. Local students of all ages were dressed in taekwondo uniforms, preparing for their annual Break-a-thon. The Break-a-thon is an innovative fundraiser where martial arts students showcase their skills by breaking boards. For each broken board, donations are pledged and raised for L’Arche.

Taking our place in the inclusion movement

It is an important time for the accessibility and inclusion movement in Canada and the world, and L’Arche Canada is developing our capacity to take our place.

Silent encounter with the “man who repairs women”

Denis Mukwege begs us empathetically to remain attentive, to listen deeply to what is inherent in our human condition: our sensitivity and vulnerability.

Companions on the Journey: Part Two

The road of transformation has its breakthrough moments, yet it takes many twists and turns along the way. That’s why we need to nourish ourselves and the fellowship we share.

Companions on the Journey: Part One

John and Greg talk about how their friendship took root and has grown through mutual support for over thirty years.

Creative Connections

Creative Connections is a space for making art with persons with intellectual disabilities. It promotes belonging, diversity, and inclusion while extending the impact of L’Arche in the city of Saint John, New Brunswick.

Continuing the Journey in Unity and Hope

With people around the world, the family of L’Arche mourned the death and celebrated the life of our founder, Jean Vanier. We are called to stay on his path.

L’Arche Joliette’s Zoom Media

This team of creators, designers and technicians offers full sound, image and video services to make their collaborators shine!

The important work of the Vanier Institute of the Family is a call to L’Arche

Today, L’Arche’s relationship with families is changing as we support more persons with disabilities living with their families and welcome them and their family members into our community life.

Sage and Time

Making community art unleashes creativity and builds bridges between seniors and the wider Sudbury community.

Inclusion Begins With Me

A conference on inclusion organized by L’Arche Agapè was an occasion to deepen understanding and recognize that “change will be achieved by breaking down barriers and creating awareness among people”.

Birds Make Me Think About Freedom

A play inspired by the stories of persons institutionalized for having intellectual disabilities, their families, and friends.

Journey to the Greatest Gift

In a Gala celebration, L’Arche Daybreak celebrated 50 years of creating the Beloved Community, discovering the sacred in the ordinary stuff of daily life – albeit with magic and space travel thrown in.

From Presence to Citizenship to Community

In order to promote meaningful inclusion, we need to build communities that welcome the gifts and contributions of all their members.

Give People their Place

As we celebrate the 50th of L’Arche in Canada, we’re amplifying the voices of persons with lived experience, sharing insights on creating belonging, diversity and inclusion in Canada.

Building a model of Inclusive Housing in Elmira, Ontario

Over the past decade, L’Arche has been connecting with the Elmira Developmental Support Corporation to learn how they are building “supportive affordable housing” for persons with intellectual disabilities, and to share our vision and experience.

Building Community through Art Discovering our Creative Potential

Hearts and Hands, the creative arts space of L’Arche Antigonish, is promoting creative expression, belonging, and inclusion in Nova Scotia through community arts.

Building Inclusive Housing

Innovative housing options that promote choice, autonomy, and inclusion are changing the landscape of disability supports in Canada and offer L’Arche an opportunity for greater impact.

What belonging, diversity, and inclusion mean to me

L’Arche Canada is launching an online reflection to Celebrate the Gift of belonging, diversity, and inclusion by listening to the voices of persons with lived-experience and those who share life with them.

An Innovative Model of Life-Sharing in the Comox Valley

Innovative housing options that promote choice, autonomy, and inclusion are changing the landscape of disability supports in Canada. The Vanier Suites of L’Arche Comox Valley are a new model of shared living renewing the vision of L’Arche.

Presenting… Ross!

Now we’re delighted to introduce you to Ross Moncrieff, the second of the two individuals with intellectual disabilities selected for a session with a professional photographer.

Measuring Impact in the Movement for Inclusion

L’Arche delegates reflect on their experience and learning from the December 3rd Federal Policy Forum on Inclusion titled “What Gets Measured Gets Done.”

“Painting is the song of the heart”

This artwork embodies the innate human desire to create a personal, physical mark which holds our fragile identity in the strength of an intentional creative gesture.

Presenting… Tiana!

Our friend Gil invited us to think about the importance of being “in the camera,” and inspired us to invite others to take their turn. We are delighted to introduce you to Tiana!

Community arts create a world where everyone is valued and belongs

The community arts movement and organizations like Art Hives build stronger communities and a more human society. L’Arche celebrates the unique gifts of artists and the community creative spaces where they thrive.

Celebrate the Gift

In October 2019, we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of L’Arche Daybreak and of L’Arche In Canada. We will take time in the next 12 months to share our stories in many creative ways. L’Arche Canada will put a spotlight on the ways our vision and values respond to our world today, celebrating the gifts of belonging, diversity, and inclusion.

L’Arche Tova Café promotes Belonging and Inclusion in Winnipeg

Social purpose businesses or enterprises focused on food and hospitality are vibrant and innovative ways to promote belonging and inclusion. For over 6 years, L’Arche Tova Café has led the way not only for the city of Winnipeg, but also for L’Arche in Canada.

Storytelling “with”

L’Arche storytelling puts belonging, diversity, and inclusion at the centre to help us “imagine the world differently.”

Where is happiness, where is it…?

Happiness is a trendy topic. There are as many definitions of happiness as there are individuals, yet never has a civilization developed such precise models and ideas of what happiness should be.

Institutional life – a bit of context

Raphael Amato offers some background on the role of institutions in the 20th century

Listening to and amplifying the voices of marginalized people

Each message pays tribute first to a person’s story, highlighting and sharing the richness and diversity of these heartfelt testimonies.

L’Arche International Family Day

The first Saturday of October is L’Arche International Family Day. Discover the gift of L’Arche around the world and celebrate our solidarity with one another.

Setting our course for the next 50 years

Looking forward to an era where L’Arche people with and without disabilities join with others of like spirit to advocate and change society – making it more inclusive for everyone.

L’Arche London’s Gathering Place

One example of the increased impact L’Arche communities are having across Canada

Investing in Justice for Institutional Survivors

Patricia Seth, an institutional survivor, put it this way, “It was like living in a prison. The only thing is, we didn't know when we would even get out.” Inspired by the founding story of L’Arche, L’Arche in Ontario is engaging in Investing in Justice, a series of projects promoting healing and belonging, truth and reconciliation for survivors.

L’Arche Montérégie Art Workshop “Le Pot-en-ciel”

Le Pot-en-ciel is an art workshop that would not be if it weren’t for one member of L’Arche Montérégie who dreamed of a place where he and fellow artists could draw and paint together in a spirit of sharing and mutual teaching. Photography by Jonathan Boulet-Groulx.

Summer in the Forest: One L’Arche Perspective

Summer in the Forest is an extraordinary film – a feature-length documentary by British filmmaker Randal Wright beautifully shot and scored. The subjects of the film are Jean Vanier and several members of his community of L’Arche Trosly in France and of the L’Arche community in Bethlehem. (Vanier speaks in English with dialogue in French and Arabic with English subtitles.)

Holocaust Education Week: Remembering Aktion T4, the Nazi Euthanasia Program

A few years ago, I went with Mel Kirzner, a man with an intellectual disability who welcomed me to L’Arche in 1985, to visit the Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Holocaust Remembrance Garden at the Reena Community Residence in Vaughan.

Social Inclusion Cannot Exist without True Community and Friendship

L’Arche Canada is participating in a series of round tables on the theme of “Living Together” – sharing life with and including persons who are vulnerable and marginalized in the heart of our communities.

L’Arche Canada’s monthly e-mail review of news, stories, and commentary about what is happening in L’Arche, with our partners, and within Canadian society.