How community arts can play a vital role in the settlement process
By Mugoli Samba (MABELLEarts Intern, 2019)
Welcoming new neighbours is a beautiful thing: when we welcome people with open arms, arrival can turn into an opportunity for new relationships to bloom. As our neighbourhoods continue to be enriched by immigration, Community Arts professionals have a unique opportunity to partake in the settlement process; by providing artful opportunities for human connection. Last summer, we experienced this firsthand in a Halifax park.
According to Eryn Foster, “parks, public spaces and art are absolutely integral, I think, to the settlement process.” Forster was the project coordinator for one our projects in Halifax last summer.
Nova Scotia welcomed “more newcomers than ever before” in 2018, with about eight in 10 landed immigrants settling in its capital city, Halifax. When we approached Eryn with the idea of organizing an activity that would foster social inclusion for newcomers, she knew the city would be fertile ground.
MABELLEarts collaborated with ISANS (Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia) to offer a program of free art workshops, community gatherings and related arts-based activities at Glen Garden, as well as other locations around the City of Halifax. The project culminated in an art installation that was presented as part of the Nocturne festival in the city’s downtown core.
We asked Eryn a few questions about Welcome To This Place Halifax.
How do you feel parks, public spaces and art can play a role in the settlement process?
Parks, public spaces and art are absolutely integral, I think, to the settlement process. What I learned working with ISANS and as part of this project was how community gardens in particular are such an important place. It is here where newcomers can feel connected to their new surrounding by literally putting down roots in soil. It is a community space, a space to socialize, a place where children can play and meet other children from within and outside of the newcomer community. It is a place to grow food and a sense of one’s creativity. Having a space where everyone is welcome, and where you can be outside of your home, enjoying green space and just being involved with the world, is what I think helps people to settle in. And making art of course is fun, and relaxing and I also think, that creativity is something that helps people to feel productive and inspired.
What was the biggest thing you learned during this project?
“To help people feel warm, welcomed, and comfortable in any new surrounding or situation, provide them with the things that help them to feel secure.”
Of course there are many things I learned. But one of the key things, which I mentioned already, is really just the importance of collaboration. I had not yet had the experience of working with the Newcomer community in Halifax, and so I knew to create a successful program, we needed to find a group who already had the connections. We didn’t want to spend all of this time and resources coordinating something when we didn’t really have access or already established connections to the communities we wanted to reach out to. As an artist myself, I have learned many times over of the importance of collaboration. When you can focus on the things that you are good at, and the things where you have the most expertise, then whatever you are doing can be further supported by the expertise of what others are able to bring to the table.
What kind of resources did ISANS bring to the table in the project?
I think collaboration is absolutely a necessary ingredient for success with a project like Welcome To This Place. We certainly could not have done the project on our own, and together, we could each bring different types of resources, expertise, perspectives, etc to the table. There is also so much more potential for learning and growing. Just to give an example, in terms of outreach, I would not have known the nest ways to find people to participate in our program. As it turned out, it was a slightly complicated process, one that involved lots of individual phone calls and translators, but it was also the outreach strategy that worked. We had incredible turn out for every one of our events.
If there was one thing about working with newcomers that you thought would be important to share, what would it be?
I think the most important things are really pretty common sense. To help people feel warm, welcomed, and comfortable in any new surrounding or situation, provide them with the things that help them to feel secure. Food for instance is so important, and providing refreshments and snacks and sometimes full meals was a way for us to build trust and connection. Also, we really learned the importance of having translators at all of our events. There was definitely a language barrier with many of those participating on our events and the translators were absolutely essential for us to have good communication.
Eryn Foster is a Halifax-based interdisciplinary artist, filmmaker, curator and community arts organizer. She is actively involved with a number of local arts organizations including VANS (Visual Arts Nova Scotia), the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative and Hermes Art Gallery. Foster received her BFA from Concordia University in Montreal and her MFA from the University of Guelph and has recently also studied documentary film at Capilano University in Montreal.
Ready to launch your own art initiative? Visit placingparks.ca or more practical advice on organizing, seeking funding, and policy talking points for your municipality. We hope Placing Parks helps you envision artful projects that bring people together in your local park!
Guest Author: Mugoli Samba
Mugoli recently graduated with a BA in journalism and African studies from Carleton University, and spent some time in the world of communications and media. Her storytelling skills have taken her from coastal Haiti to spending ten days sailing across the St. Lawrence River for Radio-Canada Québec. She has interned with the Windsor Star and most recently worked as an assistant digital editor with the United Church Observer Magazine. She completed an internship with MABELLEarts in 2019, thanks to funding from the Cultural Human Resources Council.