L'Arche Saint John opens Creative Connections

L'Arche Saint John has a brand new space called Creative Connections on Prince William Street. The name of the space says everything you need to know about the project, which is a celebration of art and community centered around L’Arche’s trademark spirit of “joyful inclusion”. It's a space where people of all abilities and disabilities can sit down and learn art side by side in a welcoming and positive environment.

I was thrilled to be able to write an article for the Telegraph-Journal newspaper about them last week and share about a project that I am passionate about. What's could be better than enriching people's lives through creativity? Fiona and Simon came along and we sat and chatted with the group as they painted some birch trees for an upcoming 8th Annual John Pike Memorial Bowling Extravaganza, an event they celebrate every year in memory of John Pike, the first L'Arche Saint John core member. The atmosphere was super relaxed and encouraging, with everyone milling around in colour-splotched paint clothes as they pleased. Each person would pick up a paintbrush and make marks as they wanted to and were able. Those who could helped those who could less. It was truly inspiring to see the warm and welcoming hospitality extended to anyone who came in the door. If anyone walked by the big front window, Patrick would yell "We have admirers!"

The project took root years ago when visual artist Mary Collier Fleet hosted a Christmas party for the L'Arche community and got everyone to make cards together. It turned out that when given lots of time and quality materials, it was surprising what people could come up with, despite different abilities and little experience. From there they started the Some Kind of Creative Club, where they would meet once a month and do something creative like tackle an artistic technique or visit a local gallery. The club was open to the public, and the interactions that were happening were so positive that the L'Arche team thought, why not take this to the next level?

Gray Gillies is a friend of mine who has been working with L'Arche Saint John for over 11 years and was super excited about what she was seeing in the Creative Clubs and helped secure funding to get a real live physical space. Gray says "People are finding ways to express their personalities. This really offers something to the community because it’s showcasing the talent of an segment of the population that we don’t hear from very often". She is now working full-time with Creative Connections along with art therapy major Alisha Badeau. "Whether you have a disability or not, there are genuine beautiful relationships happening around art because it’s so unifying" says Gray. The space will also function as a gallery featuring the work of L'Arche members, the sales of which will help support the future of the space. "When one of our  members sells a piece, we celebrate like crazy!" says Gray.

The group has been learning about all sorts of art-related things, from ceramics and dance to watercolours and alcohol ink. They often go to galleries to look at art, and even pestered the Scultpure Saint John crew with questions about sculpture. Being in a central location and open to the public goes right along with the idea of "joyful inclusion". The team is hoping that people will come, to participate, volunteer, bring friends who have disabilities, join in however they can.

One little autistic boy who frequently attends the creative sessions was so consistently welcomed upon his arrival that one day as he came in the door he paused, and declared, “I am welcome. At L’Arche.”

Take a walk down Prince William Street and you just might hear Patrick yell, “We have admirers!” then you’ll have to pop in and experience the warm hospitality of the L’Arche Creative Connections family for yourself.

**If you are interested in volunteering or providing a creative activity, please get in touch with L'Arche at larchesaintjohn@nb.aibn.com or (506) 672-6504**