Ideas are like sparks, and when it comes to the arts, donations to GAC can be the fuel that feeds the fire. Through GAC programs such as the Youth Opportunities Award (taking applications until Nov 15, 2018) our supporters allow us to help bring great ideas to reality in Guelph, and for that we say a resounding ‘thank you!’ – Guelph Arts Council
by Jane Litchfield
A strong believer in the power of art, Shera Mekhail had an idea. She knew that people who needed art supplies – like families, teachers and camp leaders – often couldn’t get their hands on the materials they wanted. Meanwhile, other people and organizations had raw materials languishing in the back of closets – or worse, going to landfill. She wanted to create an accessible hub that would bring them together.
When Mekhail received Guelph Arts Council’s Youth Opportunities Award in 2015, that dream became reality. “It was an idea sitting in my brain for a long time, but it took someone to say ‘Hey, that’s a great idea. You can do this,’ to give me the push and to get me excited about it.”
Creation Station is now housed in Community of Hearts Lifelong Learning Centre, where Mekhail is Development and Outreach Coordinator. There, she has seen the difference art can make for people who are non-verbal or minimally verbal. Through art they find new ways of communicating – and even add new verbal skills.
Shera Mekhail at the Creation Station’s new location: Community of Hears (photo by Jane Litchfield)
Creation Station also offers inspiration for arts program leaders, and Mekhail is putting together examples of how to use donated items such as bottle caps and test tubes.
(Check out their Pinterest page.) At Creation Station’s previous location at Tytler School, families would come for supplies they couldn’t buy, “like random wood pieces they needed for a school project.” Recently camp leaders, especially from neighbourhood groups, have dipped into Creation Station’s treasure trove. “People think art supplies are just crayons and markers and paint. There are so many other wonderful things.”
Mekhail’s hope is that more teachers will collaborate with Creation Station to find ways to bring art into their classrooms and use it as a tool for other subjects. “Art is a tool for learning anything.” Teachers are welcome to drop in or email [email protected]. People who need or have art supplies can drop in through Community of Hearts in Old Quebec Street from 10-2, or email for other times.
A teacher herself, Mekhail believes in the power of art to teach and to heal. “Art keeps us sane in a world of chaos. It calms people. It allows you to sort through your emotions and thoughts.”
Mekhail had her own life-changing moment one day in high school. Her art teacher noticed she seemed troubled, so instead of assigning Mekhail the day’s technical project, she handed her a piece of clay. Mekhail recalls how she felt: “I don’t even remember what I made. I just remember connecting with the material and squishing my emotions out; using my hands to release the yucky things inside me. That’s when I decided art was important in my life.”
Art for wellness
Mekhail says it’s harder than ever for people to feel supported in their mental and emotional struggles. “People don’t have face-to-face conversations. Most social media conversations are a façade. Art is another tool to get to total wellness. The more people feel well, the better community will function as a whole.”
She would like to see art have a broader reach, showing up in every school subject and in corporate meetings. “When you make a collaborative piece together, there is no way you cannot make a connection with the people across the table. Art is conversation. There is so much pain and anger and frustration in this world, how else are we going to start learning about each other?”
2018 applications open
The application deadline for the 2018 Youth Opportunities Award is Thursday, November 15 at 5 p.m. in paper or 11:59 pm online. Local artists, not-for-profit groups, and youth are eligible to apply for help funding programs that initiate, enhance or expand opportunities for children and youth under age 25 to experience or become engaged in the arts in Guelph or Wellington County. Local youth are particularly encouraged to apply.