|From The Frog and The Princess|
Concordia's Centre for the Arts in Human Development Turns 17by David King
Back in 1994, I volunteered backstage on the first production of what is now called the Centre for the Arts in Human Development (CaHD), entitled OH, THAT ALADDIN! It involved spraying a fire extinguisher from the sidelines every time Aladdin magically appeared on stage. The low-budget effects were useful enough, but the real magic was watching creative souls with developmental disabilities tap into the power of their confidence and imagination.
"The core belief of creative arts therapy is that everyone has something to create and contribute," says co-founder and Executive Director Lenore Vosberg, a social worker at the West Montreal Readaptation Centre (WMRC). "There is no right or wrong, nor are things based on insight or verbal skills. By using our imagination, we see the ability emerge, self-esteem built on seeing the results, and a vast opportunity to see that growth."
The Centre, now 17 years old and affiliated with Concordia's Faculty of Fine Arts, offers creative art therapies to (mostly) adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities, and participants are often referred from residential, vocational or CLSC settings. The Centre then matches its clients with grad students conducting clinical internships via Concordia's Masters in Creative Arts Therapies, offering grad students in Drama Therapy, Arts Therapy (and more recently, Music Therapy) the practical experience they need.
To date the Centre's musicals have been twists on classics with themes of inner strength and courage. Productions based on Romeo and Juliet, The Wizard of Oz, Pinocchio, and Alice in Wonderland have all been taken on with original music compositions by Shelley Snow. Snow's partner, Dr. Stephen Snow, is the Chair of Creative Arts Therapy in the Faculty of Fine Arts and a former faculty member n Concordia's Department of Theatre. Back in 1993, when Vosberg was a social worker at the Ville Marie Social Centre, funding was cut for an enrichment fund she had previously created for quality of life and enrichment activities. Looking for a new way to create a fund, she had heard about Dr. Snow from a student, with the idea of creating a theatre production to raise funds for the WMRC's clients.
"i really fell into producing," says Vosberg. "Stephen was running a course in Theatre for Special Populations and I asked him to direct a production based on Aladdin, which he said he would consider if I rounded up participants from the Centre for his class. I got 27 clients from WMRC to join his class, and so he left me a message saying he'd direct if i would produce it. Everyone that year volunteered. The whole show cost about $4000, and I learned a lot. At $10 a ticket, we raised $14,000, and were able set up the quality of life fund.... Eventually we received a grant to develop the Centre in the Library Sciences building on Terrebonne, where we are today."
Research plays an equally important role in the centre's ongoing activities, particularly on the effectiveness of creative arts therapy itself in building confidence, self-esteem and quality of life. Miranda D'Amico from Concordia's Department of Education is the Director for Research at the Centre, and has so successfully spearheaded the Centre's research, that the Centre has become a vital part of Concordia as a university-based research unit, doing some particularly innovative work in speech therapy, as well. Award-winning filmmakers EyeSteelFilm have been documenting the Centre to create an upcoming film about the Centre's program and development via its more recent production THE FROG AND THE PRINCESS.
After 17 years, the Centre still struggles to secure more funds it needs the funds it needs to operate the centre and run the clinical and research aspects of the program. Although theatre productions can be even more of a struggle amidst those other activities, Vosberg's producing skills have been working so far, and professional designers and musicians have come on board to help, as well as student volunteers and kids at risk.
An end-of year Public Outreach Program highlights the participants' creations, with an Open House and an original musical production offered every other year. This year, the Open House will take place May 6 and will include workshops in art therapy, drama, dance and music.
As she continues to dedicate herself to the Centre, Vosberg stresses the significance of creative arts therapy at any age.
"The group shares common themes and challenges," says Vosberg, "and we see them gel as a support network for each other. There's a myth that people can't change as adults, but we definitely see that change: the way they walk, speak, approach their social networks. It's a boost to that core of confidence, and it's a really powerful, transformative thing."
For more information on the Centre or to get involved, visit their former website or call (514) 848-2424 ext. 8619. The Centre is open 3 days per week. The website is currently being updated and will redirect to its new website soon.