Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts on 118 Avenue*

Since opening its doors this past fall with a much celebrated opening including the Minister of Culture, Lindsay Blackett along with Mayor Stephen Mandel in attendance, the Nina Haggerty Center for the Arts finally has a place to call home.

Shifting from its former location on the busy intersection of 97 St and 111 Avenue, NHC and its adjoining Stollery Gallery now enjoy a certain amount of walk in traffic, and has been connecting to community organizations like PAAFE, Family and Children Services, and Elizabeth House.

Located in the newly built ArtsHub building across from the Alberta Avenue Community League, the building project only took two and half years to realize, an indicator of the value and support the center gives and receives.

“It still feels new to me,” shares David Janzen, Exhibition Coordinator and Artist Faciliator, and a celebrated artist in his own right.

Paul Freeman, Lead Artist and a fellow peer to Janzen in Edmonton’s professional arts community, matter-of-factly states,“We would not exist if we were not willing to do things no one else would do.”

As an art center for adults with mental disabilities such as down syndrome, autisim, and cerebal palsy, NHC is demonstrating a wide range of entry points for various barriers and symptoms.

Once a week since the fall, Gerry Morita, Artistic Director of Mile Zero Dance, has been coming in to teach dance and movement, bringing dance to a community that would otehrwise not be able to access it.

Building a vocabulary to dance, using basic techniques like mirrioring, tactile and verbal imagery, Morita connects directly to dance therapy’s ability to pattern brain activity through the body, which she sees as a “great unfulfilled need in this community.”

Continuing on, Morita shares, “I’ve taught a lot, and this is just an extreme form of teaching where each person responds to different approaches. I could see drama and play therapy really thriving here as well.”

But both Freeman and Janzen are careful to note they are not delivering art therapy nor are they a drop-in center. Organized through registered attendance, Freeman speaks on the importance of nurturing the professional dedication of each artist, pushing the activity of arts beyond just recreation and leisure and into a valid pursuit of self worth and purpose.

“These are people who are told what to do each morning when they get up, what ceral they want to eat, what colour of shirt they want to wear, but here, they are left to do their own thing,” Freeman says, who believes are is therapeutic by nature. “We engage with materials and identify techniques and faciliate, but what we do is validate everyone’s creative potential rather than directing what the art should look like.”

The Stollery Gallery’s most recent exhibition was “Rangefinders”, a low tech photography exhibition with faciliators Wenda Salomons and Candice Makowichuck. Funded by the Lee Fund, the medium of photography opened up new channels to attendees who never took to drawing, painting, or ceramics, finding gratification in the art of pinhole and blue print chemistry. Viewing some of the center’s newly revealed photographers, Melody Zeggelaar, Robin Friesen, and Faye Frick, their respective works on trees, self portraits, and the neighborhood revealed a newly found confidence in exploring their surroundings and self-worth.

“We had set up the studios like how we would like it, give them supplies and the space to figure it out on their own,” begins Janzen.

“But it’s not for everyone,” continues Freeman. “It made me think of things differently as not every artist works alone. Some return just because they like the people and the atmosphere.”

With David Stokl, a blind musician, coming in once week to generously play the piano by memory, and the studios filled with works-in-progress, Morita sums it up best in saying,“It’s definitely artist-run in the real sense: artists empowering other artists.”

Every Tuesday from 6:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m., Community Art Night. Free, but must register by telephone. Led by Sue Seright,

Every Thursday evening, Family night, Kids welcome. Free, but must register by telephone. Led by Lorraine Shulba

*First published in the Rat Creek Press, January 2010

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