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Art as a Mechanism for Hope and Agency

How Open Space Mobile Arts Centre used art as a tool for positive change 

As the recent Safe Spaces Network film series has shown, activities that are based on arts and culture are a great way to bring community residents together. Experiencing the creative process in community can open people to hope and agency, two themes that Northside Rising has been weaving into our work for years. 

During the pandemic, the number of people in our communities feeling isolated increased dramatically. As an organization seeking to create equitable, thriving communities, our challenge was to find a way to welcome people to an in-person space in an inclusive, supportive way. We aimed to support people where they are and allow them to process how they feel with the help of art to help overcome the feeling of social isolation.  

Northside Rising, an initiative of Inspiring Communities located in CBRM, launched the Open Space Mobile Arts Centre with funding support from the Government of Canada’s Healthy Communities Initiative, to contribute to addressing social isolation in our Cape Breton communities in the Northside. 

Open Space Mobile Arts Centre trailer went to different Northside communities, offering a way to welcome people to an in-person space in an inclusive, supportive way. 

The Open Space Mobile Arts Centre was a community pilot program, which started as a prototype project in the Northside Changemakers Program. The program brought arts materials, facilitators, and art therapists to communities, and offered free drop-in arts programming, primarily in the Northside communities of Cape Breton – North Sydney, Sydney Mines and Florence.  

Everyone was welcomed during the drop-ins and all participants were given access to materials and were able to participate in workshops — an opportunity to share an activity, a story, and a meal together. These activities were designed to contribute to addressing social isolation.

Throughout the project, attendees participated in both unstructured and structured creative activities including collaborative music exploration, gentle theatre, zine tutorials, mask making, sculpture and installation with recycled and natural materials, performance, puppetry, and group storytelling. The format allowed participants to work at their own pace while accommodating a wide variety of experiences and ages. Participants were also invited to explore new materials and deepen their creative practices.  

Newcomers enjoyed sharing a story and art.

Open Space Mobile Arts Centre went to the three communities on a regular basis, building a following that grew each week. It created opportunities for residents to connect with each other and enjoy warm meals. All ages were welcomed and joined in the activities, and as the word spread, a more diverse representation of community members, including African Nova Scotian families and newcomers, took part. 

Participants not only got a chance to try different activities, but also were given a space to process how they felt about themselves and the people around them through an art activity with community – that showed how art can aid in unpacking our experiences and emotions.  

For a little over five months, Open Space Mobile Arts Centre was able to support more than 550 community members, a contribution that was acknowledged by the MLA.   

Photo taken by Fred Tilley, MLA for Northside-Westmount who attended the culminating activity and shared the positive impact of Open Space Mobile Arts Centre to the community on Facebook. 

This program demonstrates how we can be innovative in our approach to systems transformation work and how art can be used as a tool to connect people, fight isolation and build hope and agency in our communities.   

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