By Program Coordinator Jenny McMaster
Have you heard of Radical Connections yet? Senior community-driven artist cj fleury and experienced family physician Dr. Carol Wiebe have pooled their talents – as well as their creative and medical connections – to launch this innovative new not-for-profit. Fleury is known for numerous public art projects in the City of Ottawa championing human rights, while Wiebe is a pianist who cofounded Concert Docs, a group of musician/physicians who regularly regale patients, staff, and families.
Embracing a new paradigm in healthcare, Radical Connections (RC) works with hospitals and long-term care homes to match artists with people in care. Recreation and craft projects are not new in these contexts. However, RC’s belief – that the role of artists is as important as that of the clinical staff – is rather radical. Also radical is their stress on employing professional artists to facilitate projects, rather than health professionals without art practices.
During a recent pilot project at Bruyere’s St. Vincent Hospital, cj fleury collaborated with patients, staff, and patients’ family members to create murals, installations and exhibitions in and around the building. No small feat, in the midst of the pandemic! During this process, the artist and participants altered both the built and social environment. These changes were urgently needed. As most of us are aware, hospitals are often drab, even dismal, spaces where aesthetics are considered an afterthought. The artwork on the walls may consist of faded prints from 20 year ago. This is one of the many reasons why RC wants to enlist the efforts of those that have a living artistic practice.
Elders are Radical Connections’ first priority. As the pandemic made painfully obvious, society’s treatment of the elderly needs a massive overhaul. RC is seeking senior artists in their endeavour to combat ageism and transform the way we care for people as they age. As PAL artists will certainly agree, seniors deserve better than being warehoused in cold institutional settings which neglect the spirit at the expense of a medicalized body.
Radical Connections considers the empathy and experience of elder artists as invaluable. If you are interested in becoming an RC artist, opportunities for involvement include Unmasked-Match Ups as well as anticipated Artist-in-Residence positions. Unmasked-Match Ups will enlist musicians, storytellers, actors, poets, and playwrights to deliver virtual personalized concerts to isolated people in hospitals and residences. Artists in Residence have collaborated with patients on visual arts projects, created exhibitions inspired by their experiences with people in care and hospital staff, and hosted participatory performance-based events. Positions are paid.
An RC project must be guided by input drawn from the community of people in care. Artists involved must embrace the diverse needs and abilities of the patients as they assist them in art-making or art appreciation. Like the world outside, health care sites are made up of a diversity of cultures, abilities, and communities. The voices and talents of diverse artists are strongly welcomed.