About the Willow


The Willow provides low-barrier peer-to-peer arts education, and fosters safe spaces for creative exploration and connections for people with living experience of mental illness or substance use in Niagara.


A society free of stigma, void of shame, where artistic expression is supported and knows no bounds.


Respect – Treat all members as artists
Honour – Recognize that members are at different stages of their practice
Accountability – Encourage members to set goals, boundaries and be independent
Compassion – Meet people where they are at
Celebrate – Recognize members’ achievements
Safety – Foster an inclusive and supportive environment
Responsive- Flexible to the needs of our community


Willow Arts Community began in 2015 as a grassroots movement in St. Catharines, Ontario. The founding group, organized by Shauna MacLeod, consisted of artists, writers, musicians, educators, Indigenous knowledge keepers, and social service workers, all with lived or living experience of mental illness/substance use (MI/SU). They identified there was a gap in the arts and social services and a need for a peer support network where individuals living with MI/SU could participate in their own recovery through the arts.

Willow Arts emerged from discussions with local social service care providers, recognizing the absence of community resources for ongoing support. Many individuals struggle to transition from the medical system due to a lack of necessary community support, hindering their success. We affirm that healing and recovery thrive within the community setting. The group incorporated in 2016, and enjoyed a four-year residency at the historic public art gallery Rodman Hall Art Centre before its closure.

In 2018, we began a three-year project with Workman Arts in Toronto, Artfix in North Bay, and Mindful Makers Collective in Thunder Bay. Through province-wide evaluation, we successfully measured that active participation in peer-led multidisciplinary arts programming reduced social isolation. Workman Arts’ evidence-based program has been implemented in Toronto for 30 years and linked Willow Arts to a network of resource-sharing, best practices, and research.

In 2021 we became a registered charity and relocated to the heart of downtown St. Catharines within a growing arts hub. Silver Spire United Church provides dinners, showers, and laundry facilities for unhoused individuals, hosts various social justice forums, 2SLGBTQIA+ events and Indigenous groups, and is also the home of Carousel Players, a company providing theatre programming to youth.

Today we proudly provide our members a 1000 sq. ft. studio space. We occupy a large workspace, meeting room, and supply room. Within Silver Spire, we also have access to a gymnasium, auditorium, and a sanctuary for classes, performances, and public events.


  • Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Awards – Nomination for Excellence in Not-for-Profit Sector Award –  Founder/Director Shauna MacLeod, 2023
  • Pride Niagara UNITY Awards – Received the Johnathon Crawford Unity Award, 2023, nomination in 2022
  • Community Partnership Award – Received from Niagara Falls Community Health Centre, 2023
  • St. Catharines Arts Awards Arts – Nomination for Arts in Education and Making A Difference, 2022
  • St. Catharines Arts Awards – Nomination for Arts in Education Award, 2020 and 2019, Making A Difference Award, 2018
  • Ontario Association of Art Galleries – Received Key Partnership Award with Rodman Hall Art Centre/Brock University, 2018
  • City of St. Catharines Arts Awards – Received the Jury’s Pick Award for Founder/Director Shauna MacLeod, 2018
  • Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Awards – Nomination for Social Enterprise –  Founder/Director Shauna MacLeod, 2018
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