The Insiders shows the human side of making art, and the difference that the making of art can have on the lives of people who have been marginalized. It shows the improvements that can be made in the lives of people who are often written-off by society, when they are given the tools, opportunity, and support to explore artistic practices.The project — and the residency that led to it — is a shining example of the positive effect of artists on the lives of people in long-term care. The artists whose work is in the exhibition have a range of disabilities, among them: paraplegia, quadriplegia, cognitive disorders, acquired brain injuries, hearing impairment, and vision impairment. Some have been in care for decades, while others are relative newcomers. Because of their various challenges, Nachtigall and the participants in his studio program have often had to rethink many aspects of art practice. Everything is open to question, from the definition of what constitutes an art material to matters of appropriate subject matter.Nachtigall’s intention with his residency is not the creation of master- works nor to create a simple feel-good distraction from the everyday reality of long term care. He has found that his program is giving him and the residents a new perception and focus. Becoming artists has given them a new vehicle for exploring and expressing their personal setbacks and successes.
In November 2006, I began a nine-month residency with the Saskatoon Health Region through the Artist in the Community program, a project initiated by the City of Saskatoon and the Saskatchewan Arts Board. As the Artist-in-Residence at the Sherbrooke Community Centre, a long-term care facility in Saskatoon, I was given the opportunity to work with people with limited mobility and/or cognitive disorders. I implemented a studio program that provided residents of Sherbrooke, as well as those attending its Community Day Program, with the opportunity to express themselves visually. The studio was intended to be a place of experimentation and self-expression. I was not interested in teaching art classes, but in simply facilitating the creative process through self-exploration and self-discovery.
Studio activity was initially sporadic. In the first week, a few residents dropped in and began to paint and draw. Some were apprehensive, even skeptical. Within a month, more than a hundred residents were working in a variety of mediums and styles, filling the small space to the point of overflow. Most had never made art before. Those who had were forced to relearn or readapt their processes, as reduced and restricted mobility (paraplegia and quadriplegia) and cognitive disorders (Alzheimer’s,dementia, mental illness, and acquired brain injuries) presented them with new challenges and limitations. With perseverance and dedication (and in some cases, working through physical pain), these limitations grew into strengths. Through art, the participants of the studio program have found new voices, and these new voices have empowered them.
Twelve artists were selected from dozens of participants for The Insiders exhibition. Cynthia Faust, Linda Friesen, Esther Heimbecker, and Marjorie David enjoy the process of creating images. Their individual artistic processes have done more than just provide them pleasure — they have also significantly improved their quality of life. Margaret Vogelgesang was able to illustrate her moods and emotions through drawing. Jack Coggins, Larry Fitzpatrick, Ian Huck, Matthew Proctor, and Stuart Sherin have embraced diverse forms of non-verbal communication. This new language has enabled them to better express themselves and their ideas. Dennis Anderson and Kathleen Robertson have taken a more critical approach, challenging and critiquing the institution, pushing their aesthetic values and asking questions about the relevance of art.
This project has been a profound and humbling experience. Individuals who once found themselves on the margins of society have reclaimed their voices. I am thankful for the opportunity to have worked with such an inspiring and talented group of people, and for everything they have taught me. It is my goal to see an Artist-in-Residence in every long-term care facility. This is only the beginning.
-Jeff Nachtigall, Insiders exhibition catalogue