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A Step to the Side: Culture Days @ the Library Offers Resilience, Beauty, and Joy

Taylor Basso – July 17, 2019

In communities across Canada, libraries hold a unique and revered position. By offering free information and resources, knowledgeable and welcoming staff, and a physical space to come together, they serve as hubs to reinforce the strong link between community and well-being. This may be why libraries are overwhelmingly the preferred location for families to access arts and culture programming – such as Culture Days @ the Library, a two-day long initiative including programming with artists like Jaene F. Castrillon, Kanika Gupta, and Kat Singer, all of whom have their own special connections with the arts and well-being.

Doctors participating in an art-making workshop led by Kanika Gupta. Photo courtesy of Kanika Gupta.
Doctors participating in an art-making workshop led by Kanika Gupta. Photo courtesy of Kanika Gupta.

For artist Kanika Gupta, healing is intertwined with gratitude. "There's a huge link between being grateful and well-being," she explains. "Research also shows that in the face of serious things like trauma and adversity and suffering, people who are grateful, their overall well-being is better."

Artist Kanika Gupta.
Artist Kanika Gupta.
It makes sense, then, that Kanika's CD@L program centres around thankfulness – specifically, the creation of gratitude cards. It's her hope that such a mindful, intentional activity will create a space for participants to refocus their energies in a society she says can lead to stress, overwork and unhappiness:

Maybe we need interventions. Maybe we need something to give us a moment to take a step to the side. Not a step back, just a step to the side. And just take a moment to pause and realign, and recalibrate, and redefine what matters.

Artist Kat Singer.
Artist Kat Singer.
Multimedia artist, maker, activist and educator Kat Singer, who will be guiding attendees through the collaborative creation of sculptures from reclaimed materials, has found personal healing in similar work. "My work helps me process whatever I am going through at the moment," explains Kat. "As I build a figure, stitch by stitch, I contemplate the meanings behind my struggles, and honour my story. When a sculpture is complete, I often feel relieved, since I have a much better understanding of what I am dealing with." The sculptures Kat will be making with visitors at CD@L will take the form of trees, which, they explain, represent ideas of growth, resilience and adaptability – key components of wellness.

Textile sculpture. Photo courtesy of Kat Singer.
Textile sculpture. Photo courtesy of Kat Singer.

Jaene F. Castrillon, whose work combines art and activism with spirituality, also has a personal story of finding improved well-being through art. "My entire practice came into being in 2013 after bouts of chronic illness and pain rendered me disabled," Jaene explains. "My art has become an adventure that celebrates the brilliance and heartbreak of living a life less ordinary – creating an alternative to harmful notions around wellness, illness and worthiness, honouring art as medicine by taking up space and digging into myself."

At CD@L, Jaene will offer a dreamcatcher workshop, where Indigenous elders will share their knowledge on the significance of the dreamcatcher while participants create their own. "It is said by some that they let our good dreams through and diffuse our bad dreams so they don't return. A good night's sleep is [an] integral part of wellness," she explains.

Artist Jaene F. Castrillon, _A Celebration of Darkness_. Photo courtesy of Jaene F. Castrillon.
Artist Jaene F. Castrillon, A Celebration of Darkness. Photo courtesy of Jaene F. Castrillon.

While Jaene, Kat and Kanika are multidisciplinary artists with diverse approaches to their respective crafts, all agree on the fundamental nourishing essence of creativity. "Creativity ought to be recognized for its crucial role in a healthy lifestyle, and given the time and space it deserves," says Kat. "[Art] has been a source of joy and healing for me. When I share my art with others, I invite them to nourish what is already inside them: resilience, beauty, and joy."

And what better place to undertake these activities of creativity and connection than the library, which, for Jaene, represented a childhood sanctuary against hardship and abuse: "I feel that I survived my very bleak childhood because I could borrow books by authors like Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe. […] Libraries have been intrinsic to my survival and upbringing."

Kanika, who tries to reduce barriers in her artistic practice, values the library as a space of accessibility. "In theory, it doesn't discriminate, [if] you're a newcomer to the city, you have special needs, whatever it may be. […] It's a public space that's welcoming to everyone, that fosters knowledge and growth."

With six artist-led programs taking place, there are ample opportunities for knowledge and growth, and to explore what Kanika calls "the natural human urge" of creativity.

So many people stop themselves, like, 'oh, I can't make art, I'm not good,' or whatever stories or inhibitions they have. That's why I'm excited to do a program like this for Culture Days, because it's really for everyone. And it doesn't matter if you think you're good or bad. What matters is if you're interested, you're curious, you wanna be creative, you wanna explore yourself, and you just wanna try something new.

– Kanika Gupta

On September 27 and 28, try something new with Culture Days @ the Toronto Public Library.

Culture Days @ the Library is an initiative of Ontario Culture Days, curated by Meaghan Froh Metcalf, Outreach & Programs Manager, for it's ninth iteration in 2019.

This Ontario Culture Days program is produced in partnership with Toronto Public Library. Ontario's @ the Library programming is made possible thanks to the support of the Ontario Library Association.