Our Marketing and Visual Arts departments, as well as Director Cindi Rempel Patrick, attended the Artists + Community symposium put on by The Arts and Cultural Industries Association of Manitoba (ACI) www.creativemanitoba.ca. The two-day conference consisted of a keynote speaker (Rick Lowe) and other presenters (Leah Decter, Jeff Nachtigall, Columpa Bobb and Jana Mckee – Zach Kunuk from Isuma Productions was supposed to do a conference call, but there were technical difficulties). There were also round-table discussions and an excellent lunch as provided by the Fort Garry Hotel.
I was absolutely inspired, and touched, by Jeff Nachtigall’s presentation and would like to share some highlights with you.
Jeff was a professional studio artist based out of Saskatchewan - you can see a selection of his works on Newzones http://www.newzones.com/dynamic/artist.asp?ArtistID=55 - before he became involved in the program that changed everything for him. In 2006, Jeff became artist-in-residence at Sherbrooke Community Centre, a long-term care facility in Saskatoon. He headed up a team that created a studio program for people who had limited mobility and cognitive disorders. As Jeff talked, pictures flashed across the screen behind him – motorized wheelchairs carrying paint across huge canvases using the wheels themselves, folks with lifeless limbs, but with paintbrushes in their mouths, crutches with fabric wads tied to the ends that were also dripping with bright paint colors. He remarked that many residents were skeptical at first, including Dennis Anderson. Dennis didn’t want to paint…he didn’t really want to live, and talked often of suicide. But eventually, as the energy in the art room was infectious, he tried it. One of his pieces is a series that shows him, Dennis, in his wheelchair. Then the Sherbrooke workers come to put him to bed. Dennis doesn’t look like a person anymore – he becomes a football. In the next sequence, the workers put football Dennis in a mechanical lift and transport him into his bed. It is only after the workers leave, and Dennis is alone, that he is human again. This is a commentary that expresses how Dennis feels at Sherbrooke – like an inanimate object.
Dennis went on to paint more pieces, many of which were quite controversial - and cheeky! He glued an adult ‘incontinence pad’ to a canvas and painted in big, bold letters “DIAPER”, with an arrow pointing to the pad. The painting was called “Misplaced Sensitivity.” Dennis had found his voice, and he began to gain recognition. Jeff said the breaking point for Dennis was when Jeff delivered a stack of letters to Dennis from his ‘fans.’ Dennis, who had considered himself “175 pounds of stinking desperation,” was a role model again. People looked up to him. (At the conference Jeff joked, “All of the sudden people started listening because they were afraid he would do a painting of them.” – and I laughed!)
In a two-page paper called The Insiders Jeff says, “This project has been a profound and humbling experience. In these few short months, lives have changed. 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 every long-term care facility. This is only the beginning” (http://www.sherbrookecommunitycentre.ca/docs/The_Insiders.pdf).
See videos online at http://insiderstudio.tumblr.com/.
Dennis Anderson represented Manitoba and Saskatchwan at the Paralympics.
Submitted by Shannon Neufeld