An Evening of Creativity and Artistic Reflections on Belonging

If we think we can all agree that we need a better world, a more just world, why is it that we are not using the one language that has consistently showed us that we can break down barriers, that can we can reach people? What I need to say to the planners of the world, the governments, the strategists is, ‘You have treated the arts as the cherry on the cake. It needs to be the yeast” – Mallika Sarabhai, Dance to Change the World

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Art is political and has always been a mirror of society. “Intentionally or not, all artworks – even the most visionary ones – talk about reality, even just transfiguring it, and revealing its real nature” (Pomilio Blumm). Whether explicitly conveying a message that speaks to a group or simply bringing people together, art has the power to connect and amplify a diversity of voices.

What people have realized is that that the arts have played an integral role in strengthening advocacy movements for hundreds of years. It existed in music as a form of rebellion during slavery. You can see it in the graffiti that lines streets of Colombia to speak to political injustice, or even the paintings of Frida Khalo, which spoke to women around the world. Art has consistently been used as a tool for promoting equality and “as long as oppression, inequalities and injustice exist in the world, art and artists will have a role, even a responsibility, to make a positive change to people’s lives; whether on a global or individual level” (The Art of Dismantling).

The movement toward overcoming isolation and fostering social connectedness has always viewed art and creativity as a tool for cultivating a sense of belonging. In a study done by students at York University, Let’s Talk Art: A study of art and belonging, research showed that there is a high correlation between creating art and feelings of belonging and inclusion, especially in youth. Through creativity people are able to share their thoughts and feelings with others, which contributes to feelings of connectedness and acceptance.

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In support of the idea that art has the ability to build bridges and create a sense of connection, TakingITGlobal in partnership with the Samuel Family Foundation and McGill University, hosted “An evening of creativity and artistic reflections on belonging” at the 2016 Symposium on Overcoming Social Isolation and Deepening Social Connectedness.

The night brought together people from diverse backgrounds to share in enjoying various forms of artistic expression that encouraged feelings of belonging and inclusion. The room came together to contribute to creating a space in which every individual felt a sense of kinship. The night featured artists from Toronto and Montreal in a variety of mediums including spoken word, photography, live graffiti, dance and music that uniquely spoke to a variety of issues surrounding connection and belonging.

Starting off with poetry and spoken word that focused on overcoming inequalities and promoting justice across Indigenous and black communities, the room was brought together in a way that fostered a sense of understanding and compassion.

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Along the walls of the space the room was filled with visual representations of what belonging looks like to youth across the globe. Pictures featured everything from abstract paintings to photography, familial connections to collective women’s movements. Regardless of the medium or group, one message was clear – when we come together, we are stronger and it is those connections that strengthen resiliency across all communities.

As the night progressed, social connection within and across communities was further explored through the power of movement. Four Indigenous dancers, two women and two men, shared their culture and history with those in attendance. Each dancer performed a unique dance, representing the communities they belong to, and giving others a chance to experience inclusion and explore a sense of community in that moment.

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The night came to a close with the world’s first hip-hop brass band, Urban Science Brass Band. Marching and weaving through the crowd, the band was able to bring everyone together in movement and dance leaving the entire audience in awe.

This is the power of art and creativity in bringing people together.

Art is the one thing that levels the playing field. In art, there is a humanness that refuses to acknowledge titles, backgrounds, or difference. It allows people to live in a moment that exists only in a way that those who are enjoying it allow it to exist. There are no inherent borders or boundaries. For a moment, the audience is able to transcend all barriers and the artists are able to stimulate a lasting emotional response. Through this experience people are able to connect and build bridges which bring people together – fostering mutual understanding and acceptance.

If we want respect, love and beauty among us and others, we must actively promote it through our art. http://www.artforsocialchange.net/home.html