Calgary Health Foundation

Why Art Matters

Recently, Calgary Health Trust had the great privilege of joining residents of the Dr. Vernon Fanning Centre's EQual program for their weekly art class. For an hour and a half, recreation therapist Kristina McGowan and EQual's activity convenor, Sandra Mooney, proceeded to share their perspective on why art matters.

Out of 147 residents, eight participate in the program at one time. Over 10 classes, they produce five beautiful pieces of art, choosing one to display at the annual art show in May. Looking through the many mediums and subjects of art, Kristina and Sandra pointed to ones that were done by mouth painters, a blind woman and individuals with MS and Huntington's disease - the list goes on.  That day, they were working on their self-portraits.

"Just because they have an impairment doesn't mean they can't do something. We don't tell them they can't; we find a way so they can," Kristina said. It was amazing to see how the art projects were coming together. The artists learned the colour wheel so each of them could mix their own paints, putting them in control of every aspect of their artwork.

"They get a sense of pride from their art and they are able to see what they can accomplish. We've had cases where many people will do things for our clients because they don't know what that person is actually capable of, and then they come and see the art and they realize that person is more able than they thought."

Kristina introduced Terry, a man who was making his first art project as part of the program. He is a quadriplegic and was painting with his mouth. "Sometimes it can get frustrating for many of them. They might not have a long attention span or the ability to concentrate," Kristina explained. Terry began to paint. Gently touching the paint brush to the board with precise accuracy, he painted a star with perfect lines and symmetrical shape. "Blue," he told Andrea Konno, a therapy aide who was assisting him by holding the board, and then he proceeded to outline and fill a blue circle. He was focused, concentrating on every line, on every detail. You could tell by the shapes, the accuracy, that he was a perfectionist.

Throughout the hour and a half the pieces came to life, showcasing the personalities of each individual at the table. "It brings out the best in them," Kristina and Sandra said. "It's a program that everyone wants to be in, even those who don't normally participate in the other activities. There was disappointment for many when their name was not on the list for the art classes that week."

"It's hard because you can see the benefits to the residents, but I need to keep the class small because it makes it more therapeutic for our artists," Sandra explained.

The program relies completely on donations from Calgary Health Trust to keep running. An average of $10,000 per year is required for the art programs alone. At the Fanning Centre, Sandra requires $800 per 10 week program: "We're so thankful for the donations because we are able to get the paint and tools we need as well as an art instructor who is experienced in working with people with disabilities without charging the residents. If I had to charge the residents, I don't think many of them would be able to afford it due to limited funds," said Sandra.

As for the future? "I would love to be able to hold two programs at a time, to get more residents in here," Sandra said. For now, these talented artists will be among the many from the Fanning Centre showcasing their fabulous work at the art show on May 25.
If you're in the area, it's a show worth taking in.

Art show details
Friday, May 25, 2012
Dr. Vernon Fanning Centre, 722 16 Avenue NE
10:30AM - 3:00PM
Open to the public

If you would like to find out more about how you can make a difference to this or other Quality of Life programs at Carewest, please email Candace Lacina or phone 403-943-0699.