It all started with a conversation. While talking to a close friend over the summer, student Miranda Van Rooyen’s ‘17 senior art exhibit project took off. “She told me how difficult it was for others to understand what she was going through because they were not able to fully comprehend her experience,” says Miranda. “I asked her what image came to mind to describe what she was going through, and wondered if I could help by communicating her experience through art.” The conversation led her to create Unveiling the Psyche, a series of five paintings intended to help others better understand mental health issues.
Miranda’s exhibit was propelled by an internship at RE-create, an open arts studio for street-involved youth in downtown Hamilton, Ont. founded by Betty Brouwer ‘88, an alumna. An outreach centre and a program of Shalem Mental Health Network, RE-create is intended to be a place where youth between the ages 16-25 can begin to reconnect to themselves, others and their community through the creative arts, all the while gaining valuable life and work skills. “The youth at RE-create are the definition of resilience,” Meghan Schuurman, one of Miranda’s internship supervisors and studio coordinator for RE-create. “They’ve overcome the barriers and challenges they’ve faced in their lives, and continued to live, to love, and to hope for a better future.”
“The youth at RE-create are the definition of resilience.”
RE-create saw over 200 youth walk through its doors in 2016, and that number will likely grow in 2017. The shared studio space is strategically located on James Street North, a famously artistic community in Hamilton. This allows RE-create to be part of a good percentage of art crawls throughout the year, and interact with a gentrifying and slowly transforming community. “We’re an art studio for marginalized youth and youth on the fringes,” says Meghan. “We’re prioritizing and amplifying the voices of youth who are being slowly pushed out of the neighbourhood because of gentrification.”
RE-create is unique among other outreach centres in the downtown core. It isn’t a soup kitchen, a food bank or a shelter. Youth aren’t coming to get resources, but rather to spend time creating together, which adds an element of dignity. “The unique aspects of our community of youth artists makes it a space apart, a home of sorts,” Meghan continues, “and lets us as staff and volunteers form relationships with youth where we are able to reinforce that their lives have worth and value, and that they are amazing human beings. This is our way of showing them Christ’s love.”
Miranda cites Meghan as a major inspiration for her exhibit. It’s not hard to see why. “I often joke that our programming is as therapeutic to our volunteers and staff as it is to our youth,” says Meghan. Miranda helped set up the studio for drop-in times and connected with youth through making art. However, the real highlight was a twelve-week art journaling class, in which youth were challenged to draw, paint, collage and create visual art in their journals rather than write. “Making art with the youth allowed me to get to know each person in unanticipated ways,” she says. “My internship helped me understand the importance of art and psychology in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to know by just being in a classroom. Art can be used as part of a self-healing process, whether a person considers themselves to be an artist or not.”
“All the youth that come to RE-Create each have a story that is worth listening to. Showing that you care can make all of the difference to a person, even if it doesn’t seem like much.”
Unveiling the Psyche is a series of five paintings, with each painting a portrait of a different woman who was interviewed for the project. Each portrait is intended as a visual metaphor to give a better understanding of each person’s unique experience of mental health issues.
Communicating another person’s experience can be a challenge, albeit a rewarding one. If there is anything Miranda’s time at RE-create taught her, though, it’s that empathy and compassion hinge on listening. “All the youth that come to RE-Create each have a story that is worth listening to,” she reflects. “Showing that you care can make all of the difference to a person, even if it doesn’t seem like much.”
Images used are courtesy of Matt Linzel and Miranda Van Rooyen.