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Coping with our common problems through the arts



Art can be the answer to coping with many of our common problems. In these troubled times, when persistent racism, polarizing politics, and rampant illness converge together to divide humanity seemingly, perhaps the arts can be one way to express ourselves and empathize with one another. Experiencing and creating art can give us a sense of activism and agency in times of insecurity. As theater seats stay empty and galleries gather dust, it’s more important than ever to turn to these struggling institutions for help and, in doing so, support them.

Creating art, whether it be a performance at a protest or a mural on a building, is a means for people to externalize their fears and grief.They are not merely a spontaneous outcry or a short-term explosion,” clarifies Judith Burton, a Professor of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. “Rather, it’s a critical means of marshaling minds and imaginations in acts of expression that gives aesthetic and public presence to profound feelings and often uncomfortable conversations.”

These creative manifestations of emotion are, in many ways, also forms of activism. The spoken word performance or painted sign gives voice to those denied a platform, but it also gives them control in chaotic situations. Painting the words “Black Lives Matter” on city avenues is a recent and stark example of this. While some may not consider it art, it uses an act of creating to externalize feelings as much as it is a way of communicating a message.

Photograph by Sifan Liu.

While art can help us be activists, it can also be healing. “In a time where self-care and mental health is showing it’s valued. Using media to materialize all these inner feelings can help clarify how we’re truly experiencing the world right now,” explains Miami-based artist and art psychotherapist, Gianna Ricardi. “Information is coming at us from so many different directions, and it can be overwhelming. Having space or time to unload can help put things into perspective. As artists, we create embodied images without even knowing it, but thinking of them in a therapeutic light, reflecting what that image holds can be the turning point of how we can cope in times of uncertainty.”

Creating or experiencing artwork from home is just one way art institutions are trying to become places the public turns into for comfort. This is especially true for older adults that are at higher risk to COVID-19 and who greatly benefit from art-based learning. Through online learning tools, they also offer intergenerational art activities that facilitate collaboration between the old and young, but more importantly, build empathy between them.

Whether you are a teenager or a septuagenarian, being isolated at home can be frustrating and harmful. Understanding other people’s anguish through art can help people realize they are not alone. Museums are exploring how they can best respond to their community’s need to connect creatively with others in the wake of collective trauma and isolation.

In 2019, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was a leader in the industry when they hired a full-time art therapist to their staff—now museums are catching up. The Metropolitan Museum has a curated list of healing artworks, but they are also actively investigating how to use their strong art history foundations to provide support for visitors. In some cases, they are also collaborating with other museums around New York City to revamp their teen program to concentrate on self-care and communication during the pandemic.

The Queens Museum is inspiring other museums to engage with more specific immigrant communities with programs like La Ventanita. The collective art-making initiative created in response to COVID-19 is rooted in the Latin American tradition of leaning out the window and sharing stories while enjoying coffee. Now participants can virtually gather in a multilingual atmosphere to practice art and share their thoughts.

Mounting evidence over decades suggests that having a means of self-expression is an active form of therapy that is both nurturing and soothing. Prisoners and PTSD survivors have benefited from art-making, and so can you. Take advantage of your local museums, theaters, and concert hall’s digital or outdoor programming. Learning new skills and exchanging ideas can help us all think critically, but even more importantly, keep our minds open to listening to others.


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How art therapy could help your COVID-19 blues –



The sense of isolation during the pandemic was compounded this spring for Tania Santer when she moved more than a thousand kilometres away from her home in Toronto to a small town in northwestern Ontario.

The art therapist says she used her own creativity to cope with her loneliness  — and you can too, even if you don’t think of yourself as a creative type.

“I think a lot of people throughout the pandemic are learning the benefits of being with ourselves, to ask ourselves: ‘how am I feeling?'” and make something from it,” says Santer.

Painting became a vital outlet for Santer as she adjusted to her new life as an art therapist with the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, far away from friends and family and familiar ground in Toronto.

Art therapist Tania Santer says she turned to her own art practice to help her cope with loneliness after moving from Toronto to Sioux Lookout, Ont. at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This piece is titled, She Calls to Me. (Submitted by Tania Santer)

“I use my artwork as a way to take a break or escape into a world that I’ve created,” she says. “It becomes a tangible piece of my inner self.

“When I got into that mode of creative art making, I didn’t feel so isolated,” she says. 

For beginners, Santer suggests gathering some old magazines to make a collage. You could select a theme based on colour or the types of images that appeal to you and ask yourself why you’re drawn to them.

The key to allowing art to help you feel better is to silence your inner critic and approach a creative project with a sense of curiosity and possibility, she says.

“There are no rules to art making.”

Artist Tania Santer says art therapy helps create ‘a tangible piece of your inner self’ in the world as in this work that she calls Collapsing into Infinity. (Submitted by Tania Santer)

In its formal practice, art therapy combines psychotherapy and art making to help people express and process difficult emotions.

For example, someone dealing with grief might be asked to use colours or shapes to show what their grief looks like, Santer says, or to consider if grief had a voice what it might say and how it would sound.

“Art is another way to communicate,” Santer says. “It opens up different thought processes. We fall into patterns of speaking so it can be really helpful to have a dialogue with images, especially if you’re feeling stuck.”

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The World’s Best Art Is Helping Celebrate The Met’s 150th Birthday – Forbes



In these times, any institution celebrating its 150th anniversary is a reason to rejoice. And for visitors to the Big Apple, as well as its native sons and daughters, the best of art is its own Metropolitan Museum of Art.

If museum officials are smiling quite a bit more these days, it’s not only because it will reopen on August 29—but it will reopen knowing that it also has received a remarkable gift: $5 million, donated by the ubiquitous Adrienne Arsht.

Ms. Arsht’s philanthropy is wide-ranging, and visitors will be able to see the results when the Met demonstrates some of the performance artists it is backing with her contribution. But the great bulk will be unseen: it will go to interns, those young people who devote their time but often receive no money. Now, about 70 people will be named as Adrienne Arsht Interns.

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They will be working at this place founded in 1870, but the art goes back 5,000 years, incorporating, oh, tens of thousands of objects. It is located at one of the easiest addresses to remember—1,000 Fifth Avenue. That’s on the corner of 82d Street.

A first-time visitor to the museum—the largest in the United States, fourth largest in the world—will take in objects that will last a lifetime in memory.

Perhaps the most noted exhibit at the reopening will be a broad look at the Met through the years, called “Making The Met, 1870-2020.” It will include not only noted works of art, but ancient treasures so fragile they usually are kept from view in the museum’s storied vaults.

In particular, look at the Met’s involvement with a lady known as Queen Hatshepsut, who lived about 3,500 years ago. The Met describes her as perhaps the ancient world’s first important female ruler.

So we will see her face, and how it was found in pieces (a jealous successor destroyed her statues), that the Met’s expert antiquarians put back.

Of course, to most people an art museum houses the Old Masters—those classic paintings whose names we were forced to memorize in junior high school.

Well, the Met is taking a fresh take on them, in fact calling its exhibition “A New Look at Old Masters.”

You will read discussions about these fabled European paintings and sculptures.

One gallery will feature, for example, still-life paintings from the 16th and 17th Centuries, while a short walk away other galleries display oil sketches from the same period.

You will learn about Tiepolo’s techniques, and compare his paintings to those of Rubens and van Dyck.

Then it’s on to expressionism, as well as the role of female artists.

Perhaps the most theatrical of the Met’s famed exhibits is guarded by a strange creature—a lion with a man’s head, and five legs. This is the lamassu, and he has been protecting the Assyrian Sculpture Court.

Then there is another wide-open space (under a skylight) that is filled with marble statues, some merely bodies with their heads never found. This is the Greek and Roman Court, and you get the sense that these ancients are about to start philosophizing, or going into battle.

Although the museum could have opened earlier, it wanted to get things exactly right for its 150th anniversary. And it’s all being done for you.

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Street art festival boosts LGBT visibility in Vancouver's Chinatown –



Pride in Chinatown is celebrating its third anniversary and, unlike the Vancouver Pride Parade and other major events across the Lower Mainland, the event is not going online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The idea of Pride in Chinatown [is] to have a presence,” said Paul Wong, the artistic director and curator of the month-long street art festival.

The festival features eight artists’ projects scattered throughout the neighbourhood, meant to promote the inclusion of LGBT people in the community. 

“Chinatown has been segregated through discrimination and racism and fear. Chinatown has evolved from being very conservative and being very repressed … and homophobic,” Wong said to Stephen Quinn, host of CBC’s The Early Edition.

Most of the festival’s artworks are displayed at a single location. But artist Kendall Yan’s creation Quarantine is a bit different — with several locations across Chinatown. 

The drag performer — whose stage name is Maiden China and who has family ties to Chinatown — turned one of his Instagram self-portraits into a poster and put it up at multiple locations across the neighbourhood.

“It’s very pleasing for my ego,” Yan said about seeing his face all over Chinatown.

The project began after he uploaded 41 portraits to the photo-sharing platform while stuck at home during the height of the pandemic, one photo per day. 

But what came after was an unpleasant experience.

Yan initially wanted to display all 41 of his self-portraits on a storefront. He approached three businesses near his studio, but said the responses were disappointing.

“People are very hesitant to give space that’s very visible, in the fear that someone is going to vandalize their business,” he said.

“That is a very homophobic thing in and of itself.”

Wong faced similar resistance when he dispatched volunteers asking business associations and community service organizations to put “Pride in Chinatown” stickers on their doorways and windows. 

“It’s been an interesting way to see that kind of embracing or resistance to being queer out loud and proud in Chinatown,” said Wong.

On Saturday, community organization Youth Collaborative for Chinatown had an anonymous artist present a floral installation at the Millennium Gate as a tribute to people of different races and sexualities. 

All the exhibits for Pride in Chinatown — except the artwork made of real flowers — will be displayed until Sept. 7. 

Comrade(ry) by David Ng at 525 Carrall Street. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Never As It Seems by Diyan Achjadi at Carrall and Keefer. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Fortune Diptych by Jay Cabalu at Fortune Sound club, 147 East Pender Street. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Love is Love by Candie Tanaka at Propaganda Coffee, 209 East Pender Street. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A Quotation by Susan Sontag by Ho Tam at Access Gallery, 222 East Georgia Street. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Click the following link to listen to Paul Wong and Kendall Yan’s interview on The Early Edition:

Artistic Director and Curator for Pride in Chinatown Paul Wong and Kendall Yan, AKA Maiden China, speak with Stephen Quinn about the events around Pride in Chinatown. 9:43

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