The deep connection between arts and health in Antigonish is the theme for a new documentary.
The first public screening of Play to Be Well – A Story of Art and Health in Antigonish, an initiative of Arts Health Antigonish, (AHA!) took place for a packed house Sept. 5 in the People’s Place Library community room.
“Very much so, very much so, and I hope the community is, too,” Liz Brennan, AHA! co-chair, said after the screening, when asked about the group’s reaction to the final product.
“We are really pleased with it. It is great.”
The creation of Antigonish filmmaker Corinne Dunphy chronicles local arts and health projects in the community over a two-week period in June.
“When we first started it we thought it would highlight projects, but it ended up being a two-week glimpse of what was going on, if you will. It was phenomenal what was going on in this community,” she said.
Brennan and Jen Leuschner, another AHA! member, are executive producers of the documentary.
“We wanted the community to know what was going on with arts and health and we wanted the community to be able to make that link between creativity and well-being, and how creativity keeps us all healthy – whether we are ill or whether we are well; being creative is good for all of us,” Brennan said, when asked about AHA!’s goals with the production.
“We wanted to highlight that and show people rather than telling them,” she added.
Although only covering a two-week period, Brennan agreed there was a great deal offered in the community reflecting the arts and health partnership.
“We have been showing it in various sites in town; we have been showing it at the nursing homes and we also had a sort of private viewing,” she said, when asked ‘what’s next?’ for the documentary.
The film will be screened at the upcoming Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority (GASHA) annual general meeting, along with Antigonight – Art After Dark.
After that, she said it will be “shared online.”
Dunphy, who could not attend the debut, received praise for her work, including her ability to make participants in the documentary feel comfortable and at ease.
“She was incredible,” Brennan said.
Getting the message out
The documentary is the latest of many milestones for AHA!, which launched less than two years ago. As its website (www.artshealthantigonish.org) describes, it is a collaboration of the local arts community and Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority (GASHA) Public Health, which began at a Sustainable Antigonish (SA) roundtable in January 2013.
“There was recognition by those at the table of a need to acknowledge, value and respect the immense contribution of the cultural sector to community vitality, vibrancy and health.
“Afterwards, several champions of health care and the arts came together to establish a working group, leading to an inspiring new community partnership – AHA!,” the website continues.
The AHA! mission is “to foster creative expression for community health.”
“I think it gets a message to the greater community because not all the community has the ability to sit in on a therapeutic music session or on a Thundertales’ session, or even the Eldertree Project,” Brennan said, when asked how the documentary assists AHA! in reaching its goals.
“People might know they are going on, but they don’t see them, so I think [the film] helps to see them and feel as though you are a part of them, to really understand the capacity of the program.”
Play to Be Well features music therapist and Antigonish native Tom Curry, who delivers programs at Saint Martha’s Regional Hospital, along with The Park Bench Players, a theatre troupe comprised of mental health consumers; Thundertales, a storytelling workshop for youth; and the Eldertree Project, a storytelling project with local seniors, which is in the process of becoming a stage production.
The closing credits of the documentary feature clips of Play Along, a music video that was created as part of the initiative.
After the public screening, during a brief question and comment period, Mary Beth Carty talked about that aspect of the project.
The Antigonish singer-songwriter noted penning the piece was a “collaborative effort” of many involved with AHA!
Joining Carty in providing their talents to Play Along were Donald MacLennan, Wendell White, Benedict Lafford, Jan MacKay, Rosemary Curry, as well Thundertales’ participants and students at Children’s Place Daycare.
Dunphy shot the video, which has been uploaded to YouTube.
Carty and many other speakers praised AHA!’s efforts since its inception, including the leadership of Brennan.
“She is an inspiration,” Carty said.
For visual artist Noella Murphy, who has provided her talents to the Saint Martha’s therapy programming, the accomplishments of AHA! and her involvement with them have helped give her the “ability to stay here.”
As for the progress AHA! has made since its inception, Brennan said she is “really excited about this group.”
“They are a great group to work with, they are really phenomenal. I love working with them. It is very much a ‘can-do’ group – when people suggest things it is ‘yes, I will do that, ‘yes, let’s do that,’” she added.
Brennan said it is a “creative group.”
“People think in different capacities and different ways and we respect everybody. It broadens all of our horizons, so it is great,” she added.
For more information about AHA!, visit www.artshealthantigonish.org