Close-up of kids painting.

Building community through art

When it comes to art, Shannon Crossman believes the sky’s the limit.

For more than 25 years, Shannon has worked variously as an artist, coordinator and team lead in the art department at Holland Bloorview, and through the years has seen the positive impact art has had on many clients who attend the programs.

“The kids are choosing how to define their success—that’s what’s so healthy for them,” she says. “That sense of control is just very important for their well-being. You see this confidence come out of them and I’m grateful we can offer that to them.”

While creativity and imagination are the foundation for each art project, it isn’t just about a finished product but rather about providing agency, promoting interaction and a community, while allowing a child to discover their identity.

“Art is a time where you can be in the state of flow, where you’re very present with what you’re doing and you’re making choices guided by your imagination and creativity. In art every answer is right—there is no wrong answer,” she says. “It’s about creating accessible methods to allow each child to express themselves.”

While the hospital's art programs—which could not exist without the support of donors and donor-funding—include ceramics, painting, and summer day camp activities at the Spiral Garden, Shannon notices that for a lot of students clay and woodworking are top choices.

Ceramics and clay work

How it’s made: For this collaborative piece, some clients helped roll balls to go around the roofline; for others, they made stars with cookie cutters; while others for some added the final colours and decorations. Participants added pieces on their own, or were supported by a hand-over-hand technique with the assistance of an instructor or volunteer.

Rope and paint

How it was made: “The students threw the rope on a canvas on the floor together and that shape is where they landed. They then glued it down to the canvas, then cut it out,” says Shannon. “It’s a very different approach to art instruction: it’s art-making collaboratively.”  

The result is a map of their art-making journey together.

Mixed medium

How it’s made: “This collaborative piece combined layers of dyed silks, string and paint and is wrapped and glued on a wood frame,” says Shannon. “It’s an apt example of how we work with people in the context of the group.”

You see the input of many hands and minds to create a comprehensive whole.

The painting machine

How it’s made: In the Spiral Garden, students used a painting machine they made together to take turns pouring paint down funnels and tubes onto a large canvas to create a large abstract, group piece.

The Giant Puppet

How it’s made:

This giant interactive puppet was made over a course of several weeks in Spiral Garden, using papier mache, paint, bamboo sticks and a good amount of fun!  The puppet can be “played” and given a voice.  Sitting underneath this giant puppet, a participant can pull a string attached to the moveable lower jaw to make the puppet talk.

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