Arts & Health works with a dynamic group of professional artists from a multiplicity of artistic disciplines, including dance, writing, video, puppetry, voice, painting, weaving, carving, drawing and more. In addition to bringing expertise in their respective fields, these artists have experience in and receive training for facilitating community-engaged arts experiences through our Community of Practice programming.
What is community-engaged art?
A community-engaged art practice is a working collaboration between professional artists and community participants who work on the creative expression of ideas and issues that are important to them. It is cooperative, participatory, and focused on exploration, creation, and relationship-building. The process of creation is as important as the final product.
"Seeing each of the seniors glow with confidence was a fantastic memory that I will never forget."
"The challenges we experience through language barriers is also a gift. We all need to pay very close attention to each other in order to be understood and learn from one another"
"I believe that as we recall and reconsider our stories, we recall and re-consider ourselves, the world, and our place in it."
"Participants are gaining an enormous amount of confidence within themselves through this workshop and gaining confidence can only benefit your health.”
Todd Devries first started weaving in 2001. Since then he has been perfecting his weaving techniques and weaving full-time. Todd, also known as “Giihlgiigaa”, his Haida name has been sharing his skills, and teaching other weavers how to master materials of their own choosing in a weaving circle in Vancouver, BC.
“Everything we need to know about weaving, we learn from the spider,” Todd says. “You start with 4 warps or strands (the spider’s legs) and weave in a weft strand or weaver, and form the Haida cross, and then weave around the legs of the spider, as a spider would when spinning its own web. Around and around.”
When Todd moved to Vancouver, BC in 2010, he started working for a small restaurant as a prep-cook and volunteered to perform a weaving demonstration at Stanley Park’s Northwest Coast Klahowya Village attraction. His work is on display and for sale at the restaurant, Salmon n Bannock. “Cooking and weaving seems to go together,” says Todd. Todd grew up separated from his culture, until in 1996 he reunited with his mother. And then in 2001, he started weaving with Cedar bark. Not until 2005 did he start weaving with the traditional Haida technique, demonstrated to him by Sherri Dick, and his style changed dramatically. In 2010, Todd learned some additional Haida signature techniques from Holly Churchill. His favorite material is western red cedar bark. Since his vision of the old woman of the forest, and a Haida woman asking him to get her some cedar bark, he has had a different perspective on cedar trees. Todd through his volunteer demonstration at Stanley Park, and through a weaving circle (2010 – 2014), has met with a few weavers who share techniques and project ideas to do. On his website, Todd’s hats and wristbands are on display. There are many more creations that could be made and added to the display, including placemats and more hats. Those items seem to be snatched up faster than he can make them. Todd Giihlgiigaa hopes to continue teaching and sharing this wonderful technique, materials, and weaving in general. Weaving is really motivating when you have a eager to learn group of weavers.
Desirée Dunbar is an embodiment therapist, award winning choreographer and celebrated educator. She received a Masters of Fine Arts in 2012 from the University of Arizona and returned to Vancouver to develop empowering intergenerational programs to enhance meaning, connection and health within communities. She is the creator and Artistic Director of Dezza Dance Non-Profit Society.
Desirée’s unique blend of spontaneous movement, embodied inquiry and energy medicine catalyzes rapid and graceful transformation both individually and collectively for greater health and happiness. Also an expert in mindfulness, Desirée is motivated to quieten the mind, elevate the spirit and activate potential. She creates an inspiring and energetic space that is fertile ground for deep personal development. Through working with Desirée, you can expect to quickly develop mind-body connection and awaken to profound creativity. Desirée has been lead artist in Collaborative Creative Dance Workshops in partnership with West Point Grey and Trout Lake Community centres since 2014 giving older adult dancers a potent space for self expression and performance.
Leah Abramson is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and instructor from Vancouver, B.C. After touring internationally with indie rock and folk bands, as well as her previous project, The Abramson Singers, Leah is now releasing her fourth original album of songs.
Along with her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (focus on lyrics) at the University of British Columbia, Leah has studied classical music at Capilano University and traditional Appalachian balladry and singing with Alice Gerrard and Ginny Hawker.
Leah Abramson has taught songwriting courses and workshops in the Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia, The Vancouver East Cultural Centre (The Cultch), The Carnegie Centre, and Girls Rock Camp Vancouver.
Leah’s current project, Songs For a Lost Pod, is a collaboration with Pacific Northwest orcas that turns whale vocalizations into beats, and scientific research on marine mammals into lyrical fodder.
Amy Shostak is an improvisor and creator living in Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish territory.
Amy started improvising with Edmonton’s Rapid Fire Theatre in 2002, and she served as the company’s Artistic Director for six years. Amy performed regularly in Rapid Fire’s Theatresports, Maestro, and CHiMPROV (a weekly long form improv show). She created two new festivals at Rapid Fire; The Bonfire Festival of experimental longform improvisation, and The Prairie Bowl, a community-building tournament for improv groups across the Canadian prairies. She also moved Rapid Fire Theatre from its home of two decades at The Varscona Theatre to The Citadel Theatre, where the company increased programming from two shows a week to five. In 2015, she was honoured with an Excellence in Artistic Direction Award from the Mayor’s Celebration for the Arts in Edmonton.
Amy now lives in Vancouver, and teaches improvisation for adults at Blind Tiger Comedy. She is the new Festival Director of the Vancouver International Improv Festival. She is deeply involved in her new community, teaching, coaching, and performing weekly.Improvisation has taken Amy many places. She has performed at Monkeyfest in Bogota, Improvention in Canberra, The Lost in Translation Festival in Milan, and The Wurzburger Impro Festival in Wurzburg, Germany.
In addition to improvising, Amy has a sketch comedy duo called Gossamer Obsessions, with co-creator Paul Blinov. They have toured the Fringe circuit, and to sketch comedy festivals across the country.
Amy is also passionate about civic engagement. In Edmonton, she served as co-chair of Make Something Edmonton, and was a founding member of the Theatre Edmonton Project. In Vancouver, she is completing her certificate in Dialogue & Civic Engagement from Simon Fraser University.
Jeff has been performing and teaching theatre and improvisation for over 20 years. Originally from Calgary, he was a member of the world renowned Impro theatre Loose Moose Theatre Company, and earned a BFA Drama from U of C. Moving to Vancouver in the early 2000’s he joined Vancouver TheatreSports and has since worked with many of BC’s top theatre companies including Vancouver Playhouse, Arts Club, SFU Woodwards, Chemainus Theatre Festival. He has performed in Toronto (Rhubarb Festival, Summerworks Festival) and New York ( NY Musical Theatre Festival, Fresh Fruit Festival). Some favourite projects include Keith Johnstone’s The Life Game for CBC Radio, Onalea Gilbertson’s Requiem For A Lost Girl with Vancouver Opera (a partnership with The Kettle Society), Bruce Sweeney’s feature Kingsway (TIFF, VIFF 2018), and four seasons with Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, appearing in last summer’s hit shows As You Like It & Macbeth. Jeff is a teaching artist with Bard on the Beach, including the Riotous Youth mentorship program and Bard For Life Shakespeare for seniors. Jeff is a Regional Representative for the International TheatreSports Institute which licenses and trains groups around the world in Keith Johnstone’s Improvisation formats, and is on the programming committee for the 2019 international conference and festival. Jeff has lived in Chinatown since 2015 and is passionate about creating and acknowledging community in the Coast Salish territories we are so fortunate to call home.
Veronica is a dancer, dance artist and dance movement therapist, passionate about the use of dance/art as tools for individual and social transformation. For years she has led community engaged dance programs with children, women and youth around the world. Born and raised in Mexico, she is currently honored to live in Coast Salish territory where she works supporting women to understand and integrate the relationship between their cyclical female body and their psyche. Veronica strongly believes that our body is gatekeeper of our story and, when given the safe space, it can express in movement what our soul is trying to say. In her role as a dance therapist, she aims to hold that safe space.
Keely O’Brien is an interdisciplinary artist based in Vancouver, BC, on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. Her art practice incorporates intricately handmade objects with immersive, innovative theatre creation. Devoted to a thoroughly handmade, DIY process, Keely’s work includes puppetry in miniature and enormous scales, immersive installations, imaginative ephemera, and interactive experiences. As a community engaged arts educator Keely creates and facilitates participatory and collaborative artwork with community members and organizations. Deeply site-responsive and engaged with questions of place, home, and belonging, Keely’s work aims to celebrate the potential for creativity and community in the place and people around her. Keely is Co-Artistic Director of experimental theatre company Popcorn Galaxies [popcorngalaxies.ca]. She holds a BFA in Theatre Performance from Simon Fraser University.
Alyssa Harms-Wiebe is a Brazilian-Canadian writer and educator dedicated to bridging literary and performing arts with social and environmental sustainability. While pursuing a BFA from Concordia University, she directed productions at Montreal theatres, creating spaces for dialogue about current events. She ﬁnished her degree in Finland, and witnessed the vulnerability of the landscape to global warming, conﬁrming her desire to ﬁght for climate justice. After moving to Vancouver and working for three years at the Bolton Academy of Spoken Arts as a speech arts instructor and associate writing programs manager, she decided to address climate issues in her practice more intentionally. As a Writer-in-Residence at the Gullkistan Centre for Creativity in Iceland, she developed poetry on environmental degradation. Upon return, she performed her poetry at the Vancouver Outsider Art Festival. Selected as a BC Culture Days Ambassador, she also shared her work through a community-engaged art installation, A Poetic Landscape. As a UBC MEd student, focusing on Education for Sustainability, she researched the intersection between written and oral forms of storytelling and education for sustainability. During the program, she pursued a practicum with the City of Vancouver’s Manager of Democratic Engagement. While doing so, she worked with the South Vancouver Neighbourhood House on a community-engaged storytelling project, Stories of Victoria-Fraserview, which is turning neighbourhood residents’ stories into mural and street art around the area. She currently develops and teaches creative writing programs and workshops at Sierra Club BC, DAREarts, students and faculty at UBC, and independently.