About the Willow

OUR MISSION

Willow Arts Community is an arts + peer support organization dedicated to reducing barriers and providing opportunities for adult artists and creatives living with mental illness/substance use disorder in Niagara.

We use the arts as an agent of social change by connecting and engaging with the public through exhibitions, publications, and performances to lessen the effects of stigma and social isolation.

OUR VISION

An inclusive community where all levels of artistic expression is celebrated.

WE ACHIEVE THIS BY:
  • Presenting a variety of artistic opportunities in visual, performance, and literary disciplines.
  • Providing opportunities to integrate with professionals in the Ontario arts community.
  • Promoting a greater public understanding and reducing stigma of mental illness and substance use through the creation, presentation and discussion of artistic media.
  • Encouraging exploration of vocational or creative employment in the arts.

OUR VALUES

Treat all members as artists.
Recognize that members are at different stages of their practice (including a variety of interests, skills, and talents).
Encourage members to set goals, boundaries, and be independent.
Hold members accountable (but also understands their specific needs and circumstances).
Celebrate members’ achievements (big or small).
Foster an inclusive, brave, and supportive environment.

OUR HISTORY

Willow Arts Community began in 2015 as a grassroots movement in St. Catharines, Ontario, spearheaded by Shauna MacLeod. The founding group consisted of artists, educators, creatives, and community workers, all with lived or living experience of mental illness/substance use disorder (MI/SUD). They identified there was a gap in services and a need for a peer support network where individuals living with MI/SUD could participate in their own recovery through the arts and find meaning and connection outside of a clinical setting.

By December 2015, the founding team had drafted the first mission, values, and vision, created an online presence, and hosted their first free event for people living with MI/SUD. The organization incorporated as a nonprofit in 2016, and in the same year began an award-winning partnership with the historic public art gallery Rodman Hall Art Centre, which housed the arts education program and office for the following four years.

In Spring 2018, Willow Arts Community began a three-year project with Workman Arts in Toronto, Artfix in North Bay, and Mindful Makers Collective in Thunder Bay. The project aimed to raise awareness of the prevalence of social isolation of the individuals living with mental illness, and the benefits of participating in the arts as an effective way to increase a sense of belonging to a community, expand social networks, and build social skills. Their evidence-based program has been implemented in Toronto for 30 years and has linked the Willow to a province-wide network of resource-sharing, best practices, and research.

Following the closure of Rodman Hall Art Centre, Willow successfully negotiated a new program partnership with Silver Spire United Church where we are now based. The current staff consists of one staff member (Founder/Director Shauna MacLeod) and contracted arts professionals. Since 2016, Willow Arts Community has supported over 420 artists and creatives living with MI/SUD in Niagara, with over 1800 hours of free, multidisciplinary arts programs, and community art projects. Prior to the pandemic the Willow hosted 14 seasonal showcases and exhibitions presenting original works created during our programs to a community audience. In addition, the Willow has employed 30 local working artists and arts professionals to facilitate these programs.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND MILESTONES

2021

  • Designed and set-up a shared studio/education space, office, and storage at Silver Spire
  • Began partnership exploration and consultation with Niagara Regional Native Centre, OPIRG, and Start Me Up Niagara funded by Niagara Community Foundation
  • Received charity status
  • The Standard’s Readers’ Choice Diamond Winner | Best Art School/Instruction

2020

  • Successfully pivoted to a digital model during COVID-19, continuing to reach the community and artists we serve.
  • The Standard’s Readers’ Choice Gold Winner Recipient | Best Art School/Instruction

2019

  • A Community Tree mural was painted at the Canadian Mental Health Association of Niagara’s new location (large community art project)
  • Piloted an Artist in Residence program with the Niagara Artists Centre
  • Began working with Consultant Liz Palmieri (Imagine Canada Certified governance coach)
  • 2018 – 2019 – Hosted Member Showcases at Rodman Hall Art Centre to standing-room only audiences

2018

  • Created a collaborative visual arts exhibit called Abstract City Hall, which is currently on display at St. Catharines City Hall
  • Published our first collaborative zine Hearing Voices- Chatter from the Willow
  • Launched our first album of original music, led by professional musician/producer Joe Lapinski
  • Received Key Partnership award with Rodman Hall Art Centre/Brock University | Ontario Association of Art Galleries
  • City of St. Catharines Arts Award – Received the Jury’s Pick Award (Shauna MacLeod), recognized with additional nominations in 2019 and 2020 for Willow Arts Community in the Arts in Education Category
  • Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Awards – Nomination for Social Enterprise – Shauna MacLeod
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