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October 12, 2000 Convergence will bring arts therapies together




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Musical theatre company with a difference

CBC’s Magazine, which follows the national news, will broadcast a documentary soon about the work of Concordia’s Centre for the Arts in Human Development. It will also be shown on CBC Newsworld.
Titled Finding Wonderland, the documentary followed the production of And Alice Dreams, directed by Professor Stephen Snow, of Concordia’s Creative Arts Therapies Program.

The Centre for the Arts in Human Development began in 1996 as a special project affiliated with the Faculty of Fine Arts, offering creative arts therapies to adults with intellectual disabilities, conducting research on self-esteem and behavioural change, and presenting programs to demonstrate to the public the creative capacities of people with special needs.

All the lead actors in their productions are participants in the program, assisted by graduate interns, students from the Theatre Department and a small number of adolescents from an alternative high school.

There have been three original musical productions so far, inspired by the stories of The Wizard of Oz, Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, and Alice in Wonderland, and adapted to the talents and capacities of the participants. They were all resounding successes.

by Alison Ramsey

The enormous potential of the arts to heal the human spirit will be the subject of a bilingual scholarly conference here on October 20-22, under the title Convergence: Common Ground and New Perspectives in the Creative Arts Therapies.

At the international event, the first of its kind in Quebec, 90 presenters will take part in 60 workshops. There will be three keynote speakers, and nine training courses will run concurrently.

Denise Tanguay is head of Concordia’s Creative Arts Therapies graduate programs. “It’s a celebration of our accomplishments,” she said. “We have professionals in hospitals, CLSCs and community centres, as well as in private practice.”

“We want to be heard,” said Gurney Bolster, co-chair of the conference, and herself a dance therapist.

“We also want to get to know each other. These are local people who are trained in art, music, dance or drama therapy, and don’t necessarily meet. One goal of the conference is to bring them together to share common concerns and techniques.

“We want to create an umbrella organization,” she added. “It will help give us political clout, which we lack.” Therapists, who are among the lowest-paid medical workers and have no union protection, are eager to gain recognition.

Bolster said that therapists believe that the arts have helped them know themselves and can help others do the same, but this conviction is not enough. Therapists are increasingly pushing for quantitative research that will evaluate and validate the benefits of therapy.

The creative arts have been used as a therapeutic tool since pre-historic time, incorporating dance and masks. Today, they may include crayons and pottery-making, play-acting, body motion and percussive instruments. Music therapy made its first modern appearance in the 1940s, art and dance in the 1960s, and drama in the late 1970s. For many years, Concordia had the only university art therapy program in Canada. Now Concordia’s program includes drama therapy, and in 2001, will include music therapy.

Bolster said, “I look for change in my clients’ physical expression. For instance, they may come to me very stiff and inhibited in their movements and later, are more able to tolerate exploration by moving with an object, or with me, or with music. They’re more at ease.”

Ease of body can translate to self-knowledge and, eventually, ease of mind. “We talk a lot,” Bolster said. “I want them to be able to tell me what the movement means to them. Does it provoke an emotion? Do any memories occur? Whatever they say can be picked up and explored further. As you play, you realize there is a more tangible psychological reference that you can attach to the images that emerge.”

Everyone expresses themselves in non-verbal ways, and sometimes the messages can conflict. “A woman may tell her doctor she is ready to leave hospital,” Bolster said, “but through art, her therapist may see fear of returning to a violent household, or help the woman see it herself. Then the doctor can be told she is not doing as well as she pretends to be.”

The conference will take place in several buildings on both campuses, in both French and English. A sample of the workshops shows considerable variety in subject and tone: “The Unconscious and the Natural World,” “Théâtre de la réminiscence,” “The Biology of Psychology,” “Movement Therapy with Children with Disabilities,” “Cross-cultural Drama Therapy: Community Development Project with the Cree,” and “Outta my face, f—khead!: Teaching Art to Adolescents in a Treatment Facility.”

The keynote speakers include Michael Edwards, an art therapist and a Jungian analyst who established Concordia’s MA in Art Therapy 20 years ago and now works in England.

For more information about Convergence, please consult http://art-therapy.concordia.ca/cats2000/