Thursday, April 17, 2014

Homelessness, Lived experience and an arts proposal for London, Ontario

Below I have posted a proposal called "VOICE"  I submitted to The London Community Foundation in 2011.  The community concept sought to mobilize the community around arts and stories of lived experience to help raise awareness about poverty and homelessness in our city.  I thought the information may benefit others seeking to use the arts for change in their own communities across Canada.



Cheryl L. McLean, Publisher, Executive Editor

London, Ont.



VOICE is a year long pilot programme (consisting of numerous community art projects)  leading to a main culminating event  for London, Ontario which will focus on raising awareness through arts  about the  human  stories of those who are often marginalized or unheard in our community.  This will be a unique and community supported opportunity to raise awareness but also a place for inclusivity..for Londoner’s  to come together to celebrate the considerable creativity, diversity and  talents of all of the citizens living in and around the City of London.   The projects and main event/s will help create a place to voice stories about:

  • homelessness
  • poverty, unemployed
  • mental health
  • disability
  • Aboriginal life
  • Environmental issues
  • aging/Alzheimer’s, dementia
  • youth/under-employed
  • immigrant communities
  • needs of caregivers/professional healthcare workers

London, Ontario, is currently experiencing growth and change with an emphasis on development in our city core.   Considering the opportunities and challenges in times of increased urban development and  the  possible consequences such as  displacement, lack of affordable housing, homelessness and poverty,  as well as the critical needs for mental health services, VOICE is a well timed event which would  help serve vital  needs in our city.

The purpose of  VOICE will be to use the arts in many forms  to help bring about transformational change, to  tell and present stories for public witness,  to  help foster public empathy and understanding, to  raise awareness, gather support and to ultimately improve quality of life for our citizens. In terms of action the event will raise awareness, foster empowerment and act as  a catalyst to help raise critical  funds for affordable and accessible housing for those in need in our city. 

It is envisioned VOICE act as  an “umbrella” programme (featuring many arts for change  projects developed and prepared over a year) removing barriers and breaking down prohibitive “special interest” silos while uniting the London community its citizens and  organizations around positive community change.  A number of  local organizations are already currently active in highly successful events that help support local citizens and offer places for self expression  (examples:  CMHA “Framing the Phoenix” (mental health/arts) , “Grit Uplifted” London Intercommunity Health (writing/homelessness), Poetry Slam and others…VOICE will help profile these projects and initiate new projects through story, drama, poetry, art, photography, visual art, music, dance and film in a unified effort to educate the community and  profile persons and issues while working to validate individuals, provide a space and place for creativity and  purpose,  community  connectedness, and foster hope for change.

 It is envisioned that organizationally, members of varied communities (see para. 2 list above)  will  lend a participatory voice in helping to shape the year long projects and main event   (providing input,  leadership, volunteers,  etc.)

It is conceived VOICE  might also link to our London educational communities…research  and social service community and feature research/dissemination  (such as photovoice/performance and narrative  projects etc. ) at our local art galleries and other venues.    Projects will seek to raise awareness about issues of marginalization.  Public and secondary schools would be active in projects linked to the theme as well as the  idea of working together for hope and change.

It is expected the pilot programme would require at least one year in terms of  preparatory lead up programmes and the main event.  Groups will be active over the year in creating art in many forms which will be featured at the main event.   Lead up projects would involve groups working with trained facilitators/directors who will guide them in creating their own exhibits/written contributions/ special performances/music (instrumental/choir etc.) /video/dance/films /digital etc. for VOICE.   This initiative may also involve facilitation and working with homeless persons and other participants  over the year  to help create other forms of craft (which could potentially be marketable)  …carpentry projects for example,  quilting  and projects related to fashion, digital technologies etc.  These projects could help provide creative and purposeful activities while fostering empowerment, agency and self sufficiency.

VOICE will be designed to be a prototype project which could be an exemplar for cities and an example for positive community change… the London VOICE project becoming the model for similar events across Canada.  There are plans to formally study this project as it unfolds in order to create a VOICE  document/report which could be consulted by other municipalities who would wish to institute a similar programme.

In terms of dissemination, The International Journal of The Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice IJCAIP available and accessible worldwide (  will feature several articles about VOICE in upcoming journal issues accessible worldwide  and the third text in the CAIP (Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice) Series,  also titled “VOICE”  will feature an article in the book  about the  story of the London  project as it unfolded… a model  and an inspiration for other communities active in work for  community change.

 Although it is very early to speculate as to which London organizations may be potentially interested in some form of involvement in this event, the following is proposed as a list of possibles:


International Journal of The Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice IJCAIP

London Food Bank

London Intercommunity Health Centre

London Community Foundation

Museum London

Canadian Mental Health Association

London Intercommunity Health

London Health Sciences Centre

University of Western Ontario

Aeolian Hall

Palace Theatre

East London Business Association

Community Care Access


United Way

The Arts Project

My Sister’s Place

Lawyers Feed the Hungry, London, Ont.


Hunger Relief Action Coalition

London Coffee House

Street Connections

Unity Project/Up with Art

London Dental Community Cares

London Fire Department

London Police Department

Habitat for Humanity


Old East Village Business Improvement

London Free Press

Scene Magazine

The Londoner


Proposal summary:

There have been programmes and initiatives related to marginalization and homelessness in London, however, the human issues are still not well understood by the public at large.  This creates a knowledge gap which continues to impede efforts for change in our city and in other urban centres. There is a growing body of research that substantiates the use of the *creative arts for community and cultural change.  VOICE is a community based process and awareness raising initiative , an exemplar for other cities, that uses the arts in action to foster participative citizen engagement, build community vitality and foster transformative change focusing public attention on stories and lived experiences of marginalization, homelessness and related issues.  The initiative will offer an inclusive opportunity to connect around the creativity, diversity and talents of all London’s citizens with arts opportunities for youth to senior citizen with a goal to close the gap between rich and poor and bring about attitudinal change.

VOICE consists of of facilitated and participative arts for change projects (visual arts, storytelling, writing, performance, choral music, other) leading to a culminating event October 2012.  There will be opportunities for research and exhibits in galleries and public spaces to encourage reflection, public dialogue and discussion.    A summary report would be completed 2013 with follow up articles in *IJCAIP Journal and upcoming book *VOICE! Transforming Cities through Citizen Stories and the Arts in Action

 VOICE could potentially  build on work of London CAReS and Strengthening Community and Neighbourhoods, London Community Housing Strategy and The Cultural Prosperity Plan. There was a suggestion a presentation about the new initiative might be scheduled at the Culture Days event and National Housing Day. (list of 30 other potential city collaborations was included in draft submission to LCF).

Leverage may include in kind donations, city venues, community volunteers, IJCAIP donated publishing support, academic expertise, etc.





 Respectfully submitted,




Cheryl McLean/IJCAIP

Executive Editor, Publisher, International Journal of The Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice Journal

Editor, Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice CAIP Research Series

Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice, Inquiries for Hope and Change

Creative Arts for Community and Cultural Change, Detselig Temeron Press, Calgary.
Creative Arts in Humane Medicine, Brush Education, dist. University of Toronto Press, 2014



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

IJCAIP Subscriber News, April 2014


IJCAIP  Spring/Summer 2014 Publishers' Supplementary Issue 12 Advance Announcement

Upcoming issue Summer 2014 Is.  #12 of IJCAIP Journal, "Creating Spaces for Change" will feature articles on The Healing Arts in Action * The Art of  Mindfulness for Practitioner Wellness * Story for Change * Book reviews and more...this supplementary issue will  be published with full text articles for access by IJCAIP subscribers,  June 2014 at


Arts and Medicine: Meeting the Challenge of Change

Living Stories of Hope and Change,  How can the creative arts contribute to practitioner wellness?

More follow up and news about this presentation at Alberta Doctors' AMA website


Creative Arts in Humane Medicine

New Book! Creative Arts in Humane Medicine, a project of The International Journal of the Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice, published by Brush Education, dist. University of Toronto Press


IJCAIP Subscriber News and Congratulations!

Dr. Vincent Hanlon, Physician and Family Support Program, PFSP, Alberta,  facilitated workshops Everyday Mindfulness Practice and Evidence and Ready or Not Here Comes Retirement, Alberta Psychiatric Association Conference, Banff, March 2014

New Book! Catherine Etmanski, Budd L. Hall, Teresa Dawson,  Learning and Teaching Community Based Research Linking Pedagogy to Practice, University of Toronto Press.

Amy Clements-Cortes, Assistant Professor, limited term appointment, Research, Music and Health Research, University of Toronto

Cheryl L. McLean, Pt. time faculty appointment, summer 2014, M.Ed. Curriculum Studies Program, Research in Creativity, Acadia University, Nova Scotia.  Keynote speaker summer institute 2014.





Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Arts and Psychiatry, Meeting the Challenge of Change

Living Stories of Hope and Change

Meeting the challenge of change through the arts in medicine

Keynote:  The Alberta Psychiatric Association Conference, Banff, Alberta

March 28, 2014

Cheryl L. McLean,


This article features a few very brief excerpts from my recent keynote presentation, Living Stories of Hope and Change.


 "The business of art is rather to understand Nature and to reveal her meanings to those unable to understand. It is to convey the soul of a tree rather than to produce a fruitful likeness of a tree. It is to reveal the conscience of the sea, not to portray so many foaming waves or so much blue water.    The mission of art is to bring out the unfamiliar from the most familiar."
Kahlil Gibran


This is a presentation about meeting the challenges of change through the arts in medicine.

In this talk,  I want to show how living stories, or personal stories, stories of lived experience,  particularly those written and performed for public witness, might lead to hope and change for the practitioner and the patient.    There are two key questions I will address: The first question,   How can the creative arts be used for my own personal wellness?   I will share with you research as well as  personal stories and performed  illustrations of the work (that I will weave in and through this presentation) to show how living stories have been healing in my own life and in the lives of others and to suggest how they might be healing for you.   The second question,  How do the creative arts in medicine help practitioners, (especially psychiatrists) enhance clinical and relational skills? I will share with you topical research and evidence and  relate performance examples to skills in psychiatry and offer other specific ways the work links to skills in practice.

 I understand many psychiatrists (the healers of the soul)  enter psychiatry as a profession  because they are interested in helping those who suffer and are in need of healing, opening the door to human understanding.  You want to know why people behave the way they do, you want to use your considerable education and skills to help people be well, you want to restore balance and quality of life to those you care for.  Among you today will be those who  commonly deal with issues around depression, anxiety, paranoia, and /sex abuse...

 Many psychiatrists  have themselves seen what it is to live on the other side of the door, they may know, through lived experience, through their fathers, their mothers, their aunts and uncles what abuse and alcoholism is, some have suffered devastating personal losses of those closest to them, many have grown up with family members who have lived with depression and other mental illnesses.   

Research shows that doctors, in general, are at greater risk for depression, mood disorders and suicide and psychiatrists, according to The American Psychiatric Association, commit suicide at rates at about twice that of other physicians.  Dr. Michael Myers, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and a leader in physician health and wellbeing  also stresses deeply depressed physicians still feel the effects of the stigma of mental illness. 

Meeting this challenge of change for your patients and your profession,for your health and your wellbeing, I believe can be achieved through sharing your stories and the stories of others to help counter stigma and break the silence with your voices in creative communities of love, support and common connection.  This is where hope can be found and where the change can begin.


 "In the US, a recent study found that over half of all US medical schools involved the arts in learning activities (Rodenhauser, Strickland, & Gambala,2004). This survey found that the arts are used to foster student well-being,enhance teaching and learning, and improve clinical and relational skills, for example, observation and  reflection and insight."

There are many illustrative examples of the arts in research and in medicine in the book "Creative Arts in Humane Medicine" .   Among the topics; teaching empathy through role play and fabric art, visual arts in dental education, drama for patient communication, reader's theatre and sharing experiences of caregiving, music for practitioner self care and narrative as a reflective process in the illness experience among others. 

Dr. Rita Charon at Columbia University, New York, a pioneer in the field of narrative medicine and founder of the Narrative Medicine program at Columbia has long advocated for the value of sharing stories of medical practice, of reading and writing stories, of attentive listening, reflective writing, and bearing witness to suffering.   

Dr. Arthur Frank  has written extensively about illness narratives.  He encourages people to tell  stories to reflect and help make sense of their suffering.   He believes when illness can be transformed into story this can be deeply  healing.   Other medical educators  like  Dr. Johanna Shapiro, Medical Education, University of California School of Medicine,  who does qualitative research on patient narrative and the doctor-patient relationship with a focus on  communication skills, literature and medicine, believes theatre performance, as well, can provide opportunities for medical students to identify with imagined roles and situations as viewers or participants.    

I have special research interests in  narrative and  ethnodrama which is a form of  performance based qualitative research. While doing graduate work at Concordia University in Montreal I also worked as a drama therapist associated with an Over 60 mental health programme.   I wrote and acted in the ethnodrama  "Remember Me for Birds" based on this research and client stories.   Ethnodramas have been written about communication between physicians and cancer patients, nursing  and home care, stigma and HIV/AIDS, alcohol and drug abuse, schizophrenia, death and loss and eating disorders, for example.

How can such work be healing for the practitioner?

I have personally found that writing and embodying the stories was a transformative and visceral form of learning and healing, a deeply transformative process of self discovery whereby one can explore and re-experience  the personal links between self and family history and the common connections between themes that arise in client/character  stories and themes in one's own life.  For example, it was through my own work in the creative arts and living story that I discovered survival was an important theme in my personal life, as it had been for family members and the many characters  in my performances.

How might the creative arts in medicine help practitioners enhance clinical and relational skills?

Empathy is a key relational skill in clinical practice.  The arts can help foster empathy.

  A study through Thomas Jefferson University has been able to quantify a relationship between physicians' empathy and their patients' positive clinical outcomes, suggesting that a physician's empathy is an important factor associated with clinical competence.

Jodi Halpern, a psychiatrist and professor of Bioethics and Medical Humanities at The University of California, Berkeley, claims that empathy requires experiential not just theoretical knowing. The arts and drama are particularly effective, she reports,  as a means of active and embodied learning and knowing.  

Embodying the living story through an experience with the arts can foster a sense of having being there, to see as another sees,  bringing about  the miracle of empathic connection that Henry David Thoreau refers to in the quote;  "Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?"  

 Empathy is good for practitioner wellness  and important  in the physician patient relationship.   The processes we are referring to, the capacity to read, write and share complex, fully embodied stories, foster great empathy for the patient or client as well as ourselves as we connect closely on an embodied and emotional level while becoming increasingly attuned to our own corresponding issues and themes.  

 There is a  transformative learning  process taking place for practitioners in writing such  narratives and performing living stories.  As well, the audience may learn more about human experience as they witness historical or past events and the present within a performed context. As an audience member witnessing a living story we can see the NOW more  contextually and observe the WHYS in action.

 I have presented numerous examples of narrative, story, poetry and monologue in this presentation  that have shown how these creative forms of self expression have been healing for the practitioner.    Sharing your personal story for witness  can be a validating  act of self compassion and love.  Self-compassion that can help protect against anxiety and promote psychological resiliency. We can meet the challenge.  Countering   stigma through sharing our living stories we can break the silence and open the way for others to share their stories.

Cheryl McLean  is an educator, publisher, author and speaker.  She is publisher of "The International Journal of the Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice" IJCAIP  Editor, Creative Arts in Humane Medicine, published by Brush Education (dist. University of Toronto Press) and
the books Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice, Inquiries for Hope and Change, Creative Arts in Research for Community and Cultural Change.

 For more information:  website:  (please email to this address from your own email this link does not work directly from this site.)
 More info:  http:/