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BEYOND LOCAL: How art soothes the soul, helps to ease anxiety and depression – SooToday



This article, written by Brittany Harker Martin, University of Calgary, originally appeared on The Conversation and has been republished here with permission:

During self-isolation due to coronavirus, many are turning to the arts. Perhaps they seek a creative outlet or opportunity for expression; but it’s also possible that their attraction may be driven by an innate desire to use their brains in ways that make them feel good.

As a professor and arts educator for over 20 years, I have witnessed the mental benefits of an arts-rich life — but don’t take my word for it. There is a powerful and compelling case, supported by cutting-edge research, that the arts have positive effects on mental health.

Mental health issues affect nearly half of the global population, at some point, by age 40. Add to that, recent challenges of the pandemic for maintaining mental wellness, managing fears and uncertainty, and one thing is clear: it’s time to think differently when it comes to how we engage our minds.

The arts offer an evidence-based solution for promoting mental health. While practising the arts is not the panacea for all mental health challenges, there’s enough evidence to support prioritizing arts in our own lives at home as well as in our education systems.

For managing well-being

The relationship between the arts and mental health is well established in the field of art therapy, which applies arts-based techniques (like painting, dancing and role play) as evidence-based interventions for mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. There is also growing evidence that the arts can be used in non-therapy contexts for promoting mental health, such as using performing arts to learn about the core subject areas in schools or doing visual art with adults who are mentally well, and want to sustain that sense of wellness.

In other words, practising the arts can be used to build capacity for managing one’s mental and emotional well-being.


With recent advances in biological, cognitive and neurological science, there are new forms of evidence on the arts and the brain. For example, researchers have used biofeedback to study the effects of visual art on neural circuits and neuroendocrine markers to find biological evidence that visual art promotes health, wellness and fosters adaptive responses to stress.

In another study, cognitive neuroscientists found that creating art reduces cortisol levels (markers for stress), and that through art people can induce positive mental states. These studies are part of a new field of research, called neuroesthetics: the scientific study of the neurobiological basis of the arts.

Neuroesthetics uses brain imaging, brain wave technology and biofeedback to gather scientific evidence of how we respond to the arts. Through this, there is physical, scientific evidence that the arts engage the mind in novel ways, tap into our emotions in healthy ways and make us feel good.

Mindfulness and flow

The arts have also been found to be effective tools for mindfulness, a trending practice in schools that is effective for managing mental health.

Being mindful is being aware and conscious of your thoughts and state of mind without judgement. The cognitive-reflective aspects of the arts, in addition to their ability to shift cognitive focus, make them especially effective as tools for mindfulness. Specifically, engaging with visual art has been found to activate different parts of the brain other than those taxed by logical, linear thinking; and another study found that visual art activated distinct and specialized visual areas of the brain.

In short: the arts create conditions for mindfulness by accessing and engaging different parts of the brain through conscious shifting of mental states. For those of us who practise regularly in the arts, we are aware of those states, able to shift in and out and reap the physiological benefits through a neurological system that delights in and rewards cognitive challenges. Neuroesthetic findings suggest this is not an experience exclusive to artists: it is simply untapped by those who do not practise in the arts.

Research shows that the arts can be used to create a unique cognitive shift into a holistic state of mind called flow, a state of optimal engagement first identified in artists, that is mentally pleasurable and neurochemically rewarding.

There is a wealth of studies on the relationship between the arts, flow and mental health, and flow-like states have been connected to mindfulness, attention, creativity and even improved cognition.

Benefits in education

Despite increasing evidence published in top, peer-reviewed journals, on the measurable benefits of the arts in education, such as increased academic performance and the development of innovative thinking, the arts continue to be marginalized in education.

Could the study of neuroesthetics finally provide the evidence decision-makers require to prioritize the arts in education? If so, we may be on the verge of a renaissance that remembers our human instinct to create.

One thing is certain: the mental health crisis affecting young people implicates a systematic failure to provide the right tools for success. That should not be acceptable to anyone.

Three tips for arts-based mindfulness

Make mistakes: Try something new and be willing to make mistakes to learn. Most artists practise for years before they are able to render something realistic, and they are willing to make many mistakes along the way, likely because the brain rewards learning. If you are trying this at home, don’t encourage anything messy with children unless you have time to oversee it. There is nothing worse for kids than getting in trouble for something you have encouraged — it can crush their love of art and inhibit creative exploration.

Reuse and repeat: Play and experiment with reusable materials, like dry-erase markers on windows that can be easily wiped away, or sculpting material, like playdough that can be squished and reshaped. This emphasizes practice and process over product and takes the pressure off to make something that looks good. If you really must keep a copy, snap a quick photo of the work, then let it go.

Limit language: Try not to talk when you are making art, and if you are listening to music, choose something without lyrics. The parts of the brain activated during visual art are different than those activated for speech generation and language processing. Give those overworked parts of the mind a break, and indulge in the calm relaxation that comes from doing so. The neurochemicals that are released feel good, and that is your brain’s way of thanking you for the experience.

Brittany Harker Martin, Associate Professor, Leadership, Policy & Governance, University of Calgary

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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'The art was lonely:' Ottawa galleries, museums begin to reopen –



Ottawa’s museums and galleries have started reopening after COVID-19 restrictions, but there are some changes that patrons will need to heed before paying a visit.

The Ottawa Art Gallery opened its doors on Wednesday, with the first day reserved for frontline workers. The general public was allowed to tour the gallery beginning on Thursday.

“The art was lonely,” jokes CEO Alexandra Badzak. “We’re very happy to have people back in the building, that’s our job; we’re here to bring a connection between art and our community.”

In a very abnormal time of navigating a world of COVID-19 restrictions and precautions, Badzak notes that a visit to a gallery can help provide some relief.

“We know that art is a really important part of making you feel relaxed and connected to community,” said Badzak.

In Carp, the Diefenbunker has re-opened its blast doors, but with a few changes to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission: sanitizing stations and physical distancing markers have been placed around the bunker, and staff are limiting the number of people allowed inside at one time.

“There’s a couple of exhibitions that we did have to close, due to high-touch areas or spaces we couldn’t ensure physical distancing,” said Christine McGuire, the Diefenbunker’s executive director. “But really, the majority of the museum is open to the public, as it was before.”

The Ottawa Art Gallery requires visitors to book their visit in advance, online. Visits are limited to a three-hour block of time, but people can roam freely in the gallery without having to follow a set path.

Purchasing tickets to Diefenbunker online is optional, but the museum is restricting payment to online and cards only.

Additional precautions required are on the Diefenbunker’s and Ottawa Art Gallery’s websites.

Many other galleries and museums in the capital remain closed while they adapt to COVID-19 restrictions.

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Sooke Fine Art Show gears up for July 24 launch – Victoria News



One of Sooke’s most relished events is just a few brush strokes away.

The Sooke Fine Art Show is gearing up to showcase a wide selection of local art, but this year the show takes place virtually. Artist submissions are in, and organizers are ready to launch the new website for the show.

Terrie Moore, executive director of the Sooke Fine Arts Society, said organizers worked hard to reflect the same feel of the in-person art show as much as possible.

“It’s been a 180-degree switch from previous years, and getting as many aspects of the live show up online has been a huge learning curve. Overall it’s been a really rewarding process,” Moore said.

This year, people can visit the show online anytime from July 24 to Aug. 3, although Moore added it might be possible to buy art from the website until the end of September. There is no fee to view the galleries.

A wide range of categories is featured in the show, including more than 375 juried works of paintings, drawings, sculptures, photography, fibre arts, jewelry, glass, and ceramics in a virtual format.

Despite the pandemic and the changes to this year’s format, the show had 87 per cent of its usual amount of submissions.

There will also be interactive elements included in the virtual show, such as artist demos, virtual performances, a youth art gallery, an online auction, senior’s tea, Artz4Kiz, and more.

ALSO READ: Multi-Belief speaker series returns July 21

“The nice thing about our online show is providing access to people who may not have been able to visit the show otherwise,” Moore said.

“We’ll miss the excitement and camaraderie of working together on the physical show, but our priority is the well-being of our volunteers, artists, and our guests with respect to COVID-19 concerns. And while we’re excited about the opportunities this year’s online show presents, we are looking forward to returning to a physical show next year for our 35th anniversary.”

This year’s Purchasers Preview night will be held on July 23, where art lovers can get the first look at this year’s show. Local chef Pat Hogan of 4 Beaches Catering, has created a special appetizer box that people can purchase and enjoy while they “attend” the event at home.

Moore said this year’s show inspired a lot of connections between local businesses, organizers, artists, and community members, who all were willing to help out and make the event possible.

For more information, to donate or to sponsor the event, please go online to

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Special event for frontline health workers kicks off Ottawa Art Gallery reopening to public –



After 18 weeks closed, the Ottawa Art Gallery is reopening to the public today. 

Taline Jirian, OAG’s deputy director of marketing, says the gallery wanted to open as soon as possible to offer the public a safe way to engage the community during the pandemic.

“We consider ourselves a community hub, central to the city and a welcome space,” she said. “In addition to feeling that the art is kind of a respite for people, especially at this time, (we’re) giving people the opportunity to really engage in something that might take their mind off what’s going on.”

OAG is ensuring safe visits, based on recommendations from the City of Ottawa, including the mandatory wearing of a face mask. 

“The last few weeks have been dedicated to ensuring safety and cleaning measures are in place,” gallery CEO Alexandra Badzak said in a press release announcing the opening. 

The gallery is asking visitors to pre-book two-hour time slots, by phone or online. OAG’s new hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m, from Wednesday to Sunday. The 10 a.m. to noon period is reserved for seniors or people who are immunocompromised. 

Only a certain number of people will be allowed into the gallery at a time, in order to maintain physical distancing. Walks-in are not allowed and people will be asked to present an e-ticket or a printed version on arrival. 

Hand sanitizer will be available on every floor, and the gallery will be cleaned every 30 minutes during visiting hours. More thorough cleaning will be done on Monday and Tuesday, when OAG is closed.

Accessibility tools are still available upon request. The cafe will be open, but all payment is contactless. 

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, whose ward includes the Daly Avenue galley, said he was delighted that OAG was welcoming back Ottawa residents. 

“The OAG is a cultural epicentre for Ottawa and its reopening is a major step in reopening our downtown,” he said in a press release. 

OAG has collaborated with Ottawa Tourism to encourage residents to help get the city’s tourism economy back on its feet. 

“With the Ottawa Art Gallery’s doors reopening to the public, together, we are sending a message that our city is ready to embrace, engage and kick-start our recovery,” said Michael Crockatt, president and CEO of Ottawa Tourism, in the media release. 

OAG hosted a special event on July 8, which opened up the gallery specifically for frontline health workers before the official reopening.

Jirian says it was a no brainer to offer the healthcare workers this opportunity as a thanks for all of their efforts in combatting COVID-19 in recent months. 

“We just wanted to make sure they had a safe space and that they knew that we were appreciative of the continued work that’s being done in the community,” she said. 

Mayor Jim Watson arrived at 10 a.m to mark the gallery’s reopening,  with the rest of the day being reserved for healthcare professionals from The Ottawa Hospital to enjoy the exhibits. 

Jirian said she’s excited that OAG is able to extend the exhibits that are on display; they had only been on display for three days before the gallery had to shut down.

“This is our opportunity to really share a lot of work the gallery has put into showcasing, so we’re excited to have the public back.”

Visitors are being asked to use the 10 Daly Ave. entrance of OAG to enter and leave the building. Admission is still free.

Said Jirian: “We’re confident in the processes that are in place to make sure that staff and visitors are well taken care of.”

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