Art saved my life. How about you?

Each artist’s journey is akin to their fingerprint. It’s why I adore interviewing them, searching the sands of their process for clues or pearls of insight that might decode the art they make. I do this, I chase the spark of inspiration in others towards its source, because I believe if I keep following it, the source’s warmth and passion will reveal its secrets to me. It is my own personal fairy tale, a heroine’s journey to soul and unveiling so that my own artistic endeavours deepen.

Children naturally gravitate to art and art making. Najma Holmes, 6, puts it simply: “I get happy when I make art.” Here, she is modelling at the Museum of Fine Arts (Musee des Beaux Arts) in Montreal, a visit she called an awesome experience.” Photo: Venta Rutkauskas

Children naturally gravitate to art and art making. Najma Holmes, 6, puts it simply: “I get happy when I make art.” Here, she is modelling at the Museum of Fine Arts (Musee des Beaux Arts) in Montreal, a visit she called an awesome experience.” Photo: Venta Rutkauskas

It’s easy to recall the year that my art saved me. It’s a year that defined me. I was 16, an awkward, impertinent theatre kid at Queen of Angels Academy in Montreal, treading water in a family struggling with addictions and religious beliefs that alienated me. I’d already battled with eating disorders and keeping friends, overwhelming my peers with the heaviness I carried in my heart. I’d not made any significant attachments to elders or mentors, leaving me to cope with my inner turmoil mostly alone. Finding theatre and literary arts at that time empowered me, strengthened my voice, and drew me out of sadness for the moments I was creative. It built a community of peers around me.

It’s not that I escaped family trauma unscathed; I remain to this day a healing work in progress. What happened that year is that I anchored my identity into the creative process. The artistic practices were imbued with tools that relieved stress, challenged my mind, and made me unique. From then on, choices made for my future incorporated the arts, philosophy, and humanities, fields of study that lead us to explore, inquire, and create beauty. Honouring my creativity in those pivotal years led me away from self-destruction by awakening a sense of purpose in my life.

We know that art is good for us. Still, there is a force in society that condemns art practices as frivolous, not worth pursuing unless you are a master and can make millions, perhaps a trivial hobby. This notion borders on the absurd for me, as most of my life has been spent working in the arts, surrounded by a profusion of artists and arts supporters who know what I know. Art changes lives, enhances communities, and brings people to new places, materially and spiritually.

Now, as a community arts organizer, I have a professional interest in arts advocacy. I’ve recently combed the office archives in anticipation of the 50th Anniversary of the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake (CACWL), who’s incorporation date sees it turn 50 on February 20, 2019. CACWL founders included playwright Gwen Ringwood, publisher Clive Stangoe, potter Anna Roberts, and Thespian Anne Hornby, passionate individuals who excelled personally in their arts, yet saw to it that the community would also benefit from creative practices. They envisioned a unified arts community with a dedicated arts centre and a society able to leverage funds to distribute to community groups, artists, and the public. It’s a legacy worth defending, especially because increasingly we see arts curriculum stripped from classrooms, while the busyness of modern life moves us away from ‘making’. Though we’re a small grassroots alliance, CACWL draws funds from BC Arts Council, Central Cariboo Arts and Culture Society, and others to put artists in the schools, facilitate Art in the Park, and assist in the Earth Friendly Holiday Event and Pops in the Park, to name a few initiatives.

Considering this 50th Anniversary and the work CACWL Board of Directors and I do to bring art into the community and classrooms in the Williams Lake area, I’ve decided to create something of a physical legacy to honour what CACWL founders built for us, and I hope you’ll help me do it.

Has art had an influence on your life? Does the creative process benefit you? Will you write me a postcard or letter about it, please? Snail mail is best, because I’d really like a paper trail to work with. If you’ll honour me with your story, I promise to turn it into something beautiful… A work of art in service to the creative source.

Please mail your letters to CACWL, 90 North 4th Avenue, Williams Lake, BC, V2G 2C6.