With COVID’s initial arrival in spring, the ensuing closure of community recreation centres impacted more than people’s fitness opportunities.
Those individuals and community groups who rely on the centres and other venues for their artistic pursuits – pottery, painting, dance and more – were suddenly without access to those programs, resources and networks of support.
With the added stress of a pandemic, the effects of losing those connections and programs could be significant. Engaging in the arts can improve brain function and release feel-good hormones like serotonin, encourage relaxation, decrease stress, and help those struggling with anxiety and depression, notes Brenda Weatherston, Community Arts Specialist with Saanich Parks, Recreation and Community Services.
Artistic pursuits also encourage personal expression, an opportunity to explore ourselves and the world around us, and connect and communicate with others – not to mention the physical benefits from the range of arts including dance and music.
“These are all really, really important benefits of the arts,” Brenda says.
Recognizing the significant isolation and hearing about the impacts of the pandemic on vulnerable community members, Saanich Parks, Recreation and Community Services, with collaboration from community partners, launched the HeArts Together community arts program this spring – an initiative that continues to create and spread messages of hope and caring throughout Saanich and beyond.
Coming together, while staying apart
Inspired by the heart imagery in support of local healthcare workers, Saanich reached out to local community groups, senior residences and arts organizations to launch the collaborative art project.
Vancouver Island Woodworkers and local artisans contributed wooden hearts that people could add their creativity to. “Seeing and reading the meaningful, heartfelt messages of hope that came back was so inspiring,” Brenda says.
So far, some 600 wooden or clay hearts have found their way into the eager hands at residences like Aberdeen Hospital, The Priory and Luther Court, along with organizations like the Transition House and Victoria Cool Aid, Garth Homer Centre and local youth groups. In gratitude, “heArt makers” receive small handmade clay heart pendants for their contributions.
“It’s a way for us to come together as a community, while staying apart,” Brenda says.
Once returned, the hearts are mounted in parks across the municipality – so far including Cadboro-Gyro, Rainbow, Rutledge and Rudd parks – for all to see.
To see all the hearts all together, view the inspiring online slideshow, with new hearts added as they come in.
Creative pursuits get a warm welcome back
Other Saanich arts and culture initiatives have included spontaneous, pop-upperformances, chalk murals, window murals, sand sculptures, even a flow-through cultural event. Small pop-up theatre performances are being planned.
“We tried to facilitate safe and creative ways to still connect people with the arts and support artists,” Brenda says.
Arts programming is also part of Saanich Recreation’s safe, gradual reopening, which has met with a warm response.
“People and community groups are really happy to have many programs up and running, and the gratitude we hear from artists who are so happy to be back with their creative community is just so inspiring.”
Recognizing that some may still be unable to participate in person, “we really encourage people to be creative in their own practice,” Brenda says.
Additional opportunities are returning, including community exhibitions at the Arts Centre at the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre.
“The arts are a sign of resilience – you know the community is going to be OK when the arts are flourishing.”