First published on Latest Issue, November 16 2017

Did you know that our health and wellbeing can be strengthened by doing artwork, singing, dancing, storytelling or writing poems? There has been a growing awareness of this among practitioners and researchers in the field of arts and health. November is internationally recognized as Arts & Health Month, and Arts Health Network Canada (AHNC), and Arts Health Antigonish (AHA!) are taking the opportunity “to celebrate the positive impact the arts can have on health, well-being & health-service delivery and encourage more people to engage with the arts, for the health of it!”  (

AHA!, a partnership between local people working in arts, health and education, began in early 2013 and aims to ‘foster creative expression for community health’ through arts-health programming that has reached out to hundreds locally. AHA! has designed programs promoting wellbeing for the community as a whole, as well as for individuals including youth, seniors, and those in hospital. Music, dance, poetry, creative writing, storytelling, drama, clowning, sketching, painting, pottery, video and digital storytelling, knitting, collage, sculpture: you name it, AHA! uses it to promote wellbeing for our community, and for individual participants, artists, family members and caregivers.

AHA! projects that promote community wellbeing include 1784: (Un)Settling Antigonish, initiated in 2015 in partnership with the Antigonish Heritage Association, a popular theatre production and pilgrimage to the first permanent European settlement of British Loyalists at Town Point, Antigonish Harbour. In the spirit of the truth and reconciliation, the script was developed collectively with the actors, members of diverse communities and nations: Mi’kmaq, Acadian, Irish, Scottish, African Nova Scotian. In their own words, they challenged the Eurocentric written record of engagement between British Loyalists, Acadians, Black Loyalists, Black Refugees, and First People. (Un)Settling Antigonish’s reconciliation process acknowledges “We are all Treaty People,” and continues on the Facebook page:

Imagine Antigonish (IA), a community arts project of restored black and white heritage photos (1880 – 1960) demonstrated the health of the community historically, and was guided by the principle that “A healthy community knows its history.” Local members of the Mi’kmaq, Dutch, African, Scottish, Chinese, English, Acadian communities opened up their family albums to contribute these illustrative photos, some of which adorned the collection of the 14 banners presented at the 2014 Highland Games, now housed at the Antigonish Heritage Museum. Updates to the original collection continue on the IA website (

The popular Eldertree musical theatre performances in 2015 were the culmination of a project pairing local musicians, actors, and writers with seniors to gather meaningful, funny, or poignant stories from the seniors’ lives. This process and the performances enhanced both individual and community health through the sharing of these valuable stories.

Numerous AHA! programs focus on individual health and wellbeing. Arts Canopy is a current program for small groups of seniors living with dementia, offering 10-week sessions in visual arts including painting and pottery, poetry, or music. Thundertales encouraged youth to express themselves through storytelling using various media, as a way to strengthen resilience, empathy and confidence. A songwriting project helped young women discover musical ways of expressing themselves, developing stronger peer relationships and healthy wellness strategies. Music has been brought into local schools to help alleviate stress and assist with learning. Folks in hospital engage in a variety of visual and musical arts to enhance their health, well-being and recovery, all thanks to AHA!.

“These facilitated, interactive, arts-based sessions take participants on a journey of self-discovery and creation” (Vanessa Currie, local arts-health researcher). Health benefits stem from increased self-discovery and confidence, engagement of the imagination, social inclusion and relationship-building, humour and laughter. Engaging in creative activity is good for everyone’s health, at every stage of life. This month, AHA! encourages you to do a little dance in your kitchen, sing along with the radio, write your own lyrics, make a card for someone, or give the gift of colouring with AHA!’s two books of line drawings by local artists, available in downtown stores.

During Arts and Health month, AHA! will present its second annual Dance for Life. “Once more, we will be gathering together groups of dancers representing the wonderful diversity of cultures and ethnicities that make up our community. We will witness a wide selection of traditional dances from around the world, and also hear something of the significance of dance to their cultures. We will open the evening with a healing ceremony, calling on us all as Treaty People to reflect on the land acknowledgment, specifically the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1725. In the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation, we have a parchment designed by Mi’qmaw artist, Loretta Gould, that will circulate for everyone’s signature during the dance program.”” (AHA! co-leader and Dance for Life co-organiser John Graham-Pole).

In addition to performing in the Dance for Life, Liliona Quarmyne, dancer, choreographer and activist, will present an art and activism workshop that shares the dynamic process around a resistance dance-drama created by women in Ada, Ghana as part of their struggle to reclaim communal access to the Songor Salt Lagoon.

AHA! wishes everyone a healthful and arts-full month of November. To read “Exploring Arts-based Programming in Health and Wellbeing” by Vanessa Currie; find out more about AHA!’s programs; or to get involved:


Cold Autumn Day

The roof is falling.

Needs fixing.

The bushes are crisp orange.

But the barn needs painting.

No farm animals. The loft, open

for hay, cold autumn day.

Makes me nostalgic.

Cold autumn day.

The roof is falling.

~Poem by Arts Canopy participant

Excerpt from Hodge-podge Valentine to Life

You are an afternoon

of cooking, time spent quilting.

You are old time music,

Don Messer and the Islanders.

A busy Saturday at the Market,

selling oatcakes, bread, and pie.

You are a chocolate chip cookie

fresh from the oven.

You are early evening, a new moon.

You are wild strawberries,

and green grass. You are fresh bread,

and you are mac and cheese.

You are a good talk with friends,

The best laugh ever. Tea and company.

You are the colour and scent of lilacs in June.

Lionel Ritchie on the radio, or

plain old love me tender,

love me true. A red sky

at evening, making for a nice day tomorrow.

~ The Ladies of the Briar Patch (participants of Arts Canopy)

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