Meet Art Not Shame!

Art Not Shame is a community-based organization in Guelph that offers art workshops, programs, and events to foster creativity and connection. Their is to provide inclusive spaces where individuals can explore art, challenge shame, and support each other’s well-being.

If someone was new to Guelph and had never heard of Art Not Shame before how would you explain to them who you are, what you do, and why you do what you do?

Art Not Shame is all about art-making, community-making, and welcoming all the different ways folks show up to participate in those activities. We offer workshops, programs, and events, to help create microcosms of the worlds we collectively imagine. Spaces where we speak back to the systemic forces that perpetuate cycles of shame and undermine self-worth. 

Our goal is to create a space that fills a gap in the arts sector and to provide services that are complementary to traditional mental health services, a place where being together, creating together, unlearning together, and playing together empowers us all and where our individual and collective well-being is bettered.

Art Not Shame is an organization based around creating space for community members through “community-building multidisciplinary art-based engagement.” Could you break that down a bit and give us a closer look at what this means in practice?

Image courtesy of Art Not Shame

Yes! When we engage in arts-based activities in groups, it’s amazing how community-building naturally happens. When folks are starting to learn new skills or settling into a new creative space there are often many new questions asked. In our programming, participants look to the facilitators and each other for the answers which creates so many dynamic and interesting ways to share skills and help one another in the process of creating. This way of being also creates a collective where participants and facilitators become one group of folks learning and exploring together.  

When participants experience shame and perfectionism creeping in, the collective will cheer them on, and validate them in their feelings. Throughout a multi-week offering, we see the collective returning to previous conversations, checking in on how someone’s dog is doing, and asking how each others’ day was. We have even seen participants creating their meet-ups outside of our workshops – because they want to spend time making with one another. 

Our experience is when folks are engaged creatively, using their hands and settling into their bodies, it can become easier to engage with other people – there is something in common to talk about, and over time, it gets more comfortable and easier to slip into that creative space as a group. Even if folks are creating alongside a group and not engaging in conversation, it can feel comforting knowing you get to be with this group each week, and knowing you’re valued, however you’re showing up. 

Art Not Shame has a new physical space, how do you envision this contributing to your mission and objectives? In what ways do you anticipate it impacting the local community positively?

We are so excited about our new space opening! Having an arts hub in the heart of downtown Guelph where we can consistently offer our programs, and create space for others to offer different types of programming allows us to broaden our reach and our mission to offer low-barrier, accessible arts programming. 

We envision the space being an inspiring, safer, creative place to hang out, come to weekly art drop-ins, host one-off workshops, and run our ongoing programs. Additionally, we’re excited to be able to offer affordable space to artists and other community organizations who want to run their own workshops, programs, or events. 

We have lots of dreams about all the beautiful things that we’ll offer in this space and are excited to develop closer and new relationships with our community.

Your current project Community Fabric is underway, what are the underlying concepts driving this initiative? How does Community Fabric enrich the local community, and what lasting effects do you anticipate it will leave?

We are two weeks in and have eight sessions left! 

The goal is for participants to work together to create a community quilt while building social connections and developing skills to support their mental health and well-being. Each week the quilt will grow as community members explore mark-making through textiles as local artist facilitators guide them through teachings around appliqué, embroidery, hand-sewing, printmaking, and quilting. The quilt will live in Art Not Shame’s new space and will act as a beginning point for co-created placemaking. 

Folks are still welcome to join us by registering and/or dropping into one or more of the sessions. Find out all about it here.

You mention that your community-facing programming, such as Community Fabric, is focused on creative and healing processes over the final outcome. Can you describe the benefits of the process specifically of this initiative? How do you envision the process being reflected in the finished quilt?

The Community Quilt project seeks to share stories from across the community by partnering  

with the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition and the Guelph Civic Museum to travel across the city to gain a more accurate representation of what kinds of hopes, dreams, values, and ideas Guelph has.

We want to support the healing process by allowing participants to feel valued by the community and to share what they have to say, by learning new skills (we invite those who are seasoned sewists and beginners to participate). We want folks to feel like they can unwind from their day by sinking into a creative space with others and having a little snack. Finally, we believe that it’s all about building connections that are valued and have longevity. 

The quilt squares will reflect community member values, a representation of our diversity, and stories

Each stitch (participant) is integral to the whole quilt (our community).

Image courtesy of Art Not Shame

A handful of sessions of the Community Fabric project have already taken place. How did it go? What comments, feelings, or feedback did you receive from the community participants?

So far it’s going great! We’re so grateful for those who have contributed thus far to the quilt. Each week, the room fills with community members, we turn some music on, grab some snacks, and get settled into working on our quilt squares. There’s really good energy in the room – people encouraging one another, sharing stories, or just totally engaged with whatever amazing creation they’re making.

Time flies each week. Last week, as we were starting to clean up, all the participants were still chatting, and engaged, and one participant even looked up and asked if we really had to leave. Everyone laughed and agreed they were disappointed it was already over. 

We all agree that it feels good to be with one another and have been told the quilt is “such a cool project” and we couldn’t agree more!

Is there anything else the community should know about this project or Art Not Shame as a whole? Is there anything else you have upcoming you would like to share with our readers?

As with most smaller organizations we are funded through grants and private donations and are continually fundraising to pay our artists and staff. If any readers feel called to make a one-time or monthly donation we would be so grateful. You can find all the information here

Also, as we come closer to opening our physical space, we are planning on sending out updates with all the information about what is going on in the space. Readers can sign up here.Please follow us on Instagram too @artnotshame.

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