Federal government invests $25,000 in Arts Canopy Program

Wanda Grace (left) and Mary K. MacGillivray are both active participants in the Arts Canopy program. Grace is seen here reading from poems the two women had written while taking part in the program.

ANTIGONISH: A local project that uses the arts to help people with dementia improve their quality of life received a significant boost this week.

On May 14, Central Nova MP Sean Fraser announced a federal grant of $25,000 through the New Horizons for Seniors Program will go to Arts Health Antigonish (AHA!) to help grow its Arts Canopy 2018 program.

The announcement took place at the R.K. MacDonald Seniors Home in Antigonish, and was attended by AHA! Members, as well as program participants and facilitators.

Photos by Melanie Holder
Central Nova MP Sean Fraser was in Antigonish on May 14 to announce a federal grant of $25,000 to Arts Health Antigonish to expand its arts programming for seniors living with dementia.

“Arts Health Antigonish is a fabulous example of the kinds of creative ideas that we can put in place that don’t just react to somebody when they sprain their ankle or take a heart attack, but actually proactively seek to improve population health by taking measures through the arts in particular that improve people’s social well-being and mental health,” said Fraser.

AHA! is a collaboration between artists, educators and healthcare workers. It began in 2013 with the goal of improving community health through engagement with the arts. AHA! launched the Arts Canopy Program in 2016 and since that time it has piloted 17 10-week programs for people with dementia. The programs, which are facilitated by professional artists, help participants engage with others using various art forms including music, visual art, poetry, pottery, and movement.

Liz Brennan, co-chair of Arts Health Antigonish, said the funding announced last week will be used to expand the Arts Canopy Program, train artist facilitators, and purchase materials.

“We started with the idea of what would happen when we engage with people with dementia if we focused on their capacities, and on what they could do, rather than focusing on deficits,” said Liz Brennan, family doctor and co-chair of AHA!

“We’re training our artist facilitators to live in the moment with them, to help them with their socialization, and to try to discover other ways they can remember other than using their short-term memory.”

The funding will go toward the cost of hiring and training artist facilitators, purchasing materials, and expanding the program to include other art forms such as storytelling, dance, and improvisation.

Contributed photo
Pictured are (back, from the left): Heather Leeder, Arts Canopy Facilitator; Olivia Rossong owner Full Circle Care, Arts Canopy Facilitator; Mary Partridge, horticulture therapist at the R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home and coordinator of Arts Canopy; Tom Curry, Arts Canopy Facilitator; Central Nova MP Sean Fraser; Susan Walsh, artist, Arts Canopy Facilitator, M. Ed. Counselling; and Dr. Elizabeth Brennan, co-chair, Arts Health Antigonish. (Front row, from the left): Wanda Grace and Mary K. MacGillivray, R.K. MacDonald residents and artists.

Currently, Arts Canopy runs programs at R.K. MacDonald Seniors Home, Parkland Antigonish, and Valley View Villa in Stellarton. Brennan says she hopes to extend the program to Milford Haven Home for Special Care in Guysborough this summer and possibly other locations.

“We are also hoping to have some kind of public installation or show at the end to showcase the artists. We’re not sure what that will look like yet, but some of the money may go to that,” said Brennan.

Brennan said the Arts Canopy program has had a profound impact on participants.

“They found other ways that they could engage with people. They enjoyed better socialization, improved mood, less anxiety, and they did find other ways of remembering which was really wonderful and really lovely to see,” Brennan added.