“Matters of the Heart” was a pilot community arts engagement project designed to improve the well being of, and relationships between, Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth and adults in the community of Sioux Lookout, Ontario.
The pilot project began with conversations between project organizers in November 2015 and concluded in March 2017. The project was co-managed by the Sioux Hudson Entertainment Series, and supported through Ontario Presents with funding provided by Canadian Heritage.
The purpose of this project was to better understand the “what, why, and how” of community engagement, and to utilize these learnings to:
- Increase sectoral understanding and activity around community engagement
- Embrace cross-sectoral partnerships that lead to improved outcomes
- Find appropriate partners and facilitate partnership development between performing arts presenters, community stakeholders, and artists.
Community priorities were identified through a community mapping and needs assessment report. Physical and mental health was identified as a community concern and it was noted that this challenge is exacerbated because of the insufficient relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents.
Once these priorities were identified, the primary goal of the project became to improve awareness of the connection between “movement,” physical and mental health, and healthy relationships, and to improve Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships in the community. The project organizers hoped to promote increased understanding, respect, dialogue, and feelings of safety, particularly among youth.
The project framework was based on the four stages of community engagement practice: inform, involve, collaborate and empower.
After undertaking the community priorities assessment and gathering partners (stages one and two), a collective of local arts, education and health sector professionals came together with youth at Pelican Falls First Nations High School (PFFNHS). The group participated in a one-day workshop exploring physical activity (movement/dance) and the connection between physical and mental health and healthy relationships.
The activity was facilitated and presented by Blueprint for Life, “one of the world’s leading companies using HipHop as both a community development tool and as a model for alternative education and healing.”
The hope in any community engagement project is that the community will be empowered to continue the process of using art to celebrate and explore. Conversations have continued in Sioux Lookout about the impact of this project and the potential for future projects. Feedback from Matters of the Heart included comments about an increased appreciation for the arts and the role that they can play in healing and mental health, a plan to use music in future teaching, and a hope for similar programs in the future.
Participants also shared many ideas for future work, including partnering between schools, offering this experience in Treaty locations, and building on service provider involvement to continue to explore different approaches to engage and work with youth and community members. As the organizers noted, “whether it happens now or 3 years from now, seeds have been planted.”