CAMH’s Forensic Unit was an intriguing and potentially challenging assignment. Unlike other wards, forensic clients are involved at various levels in court-ordered processes and are involuntarily detained. The ambient mood has often reflected an awareness of this, and it is within this context that we began to flesh out a basis for the creation of a community mural.
What has struck me more than anything throughout its evolution is the underlying positivity with which client participants have engaged the work. Art has been consistently approached as nothing less than a liberating vehicle. It is difficult to miss the difference in tone in clients through every step of the process – from talking about and conceptualizing the mural, to picking up a brush and contributing to the emerging work. The mere fact of a creative event taking place there has even seemed to provide focus, as those clients who watched me lay down the initial outline were also observably taking part in something therapeutic.
The mural still has some ways to go before completion…we began in January and have worked solidly once or twice a week since then. For the last two weeks in April, when I was on vacation, I turned over control of the project to the clients entirely. I could have insisted that things wait until I returned but my reason for not doing so was to empower our budding artists to shape their own environment, a notion of specific importance for the population. I was not disappointed: they astounded me by adding a great range of vivid colours, making the mural absolutely pop!
Using the transformative power of art, participants shift the area’s look away from a clinical space towards that of a welcoming treatment centre. The playful jungle design – arrived at strictly through client input – provides a stimulating backdrop with a distinctly handmade feel.
It has been my pleasure to facilitate the creative and expressive exploration of so many of our clients, and to witness the opening of doors for them and those around them. Thanks also to Saroj Singh, the fantastic occupational therapist that has helped me lead this particular project and who also leads a separate art group!
(This article also appears on CAMH’s blog.)