Robertson-Wesley United Church Arts Collective, Artist in Residence Program

Though social media, I stumbled upon an Artist in Residence Program at Robertson-Wesley United Church (RWUC) in Edmonton, Alberta. After some consideration, I decided to submit my application. I knew it was something that would definitely take me outside of my comfort zone. When I was accepted into the program I was excited about where the journey would lead me and how this new experience would help me grow.

As a Communications Consultant, collaboration is an integral part what I do. So while I was looking forward to collaborating with RWUC I was curious to understand how my role as Artist in Residence would unfold. After several meetings, we established an Arts Collective called Morphing Pain Through Story, which I would facilitate and also participate in over a two-month time span in fall 2014.

What I valued most about this opportunity was the chance to be exposed to other people’s creative ideas and opinions, how those might impact my own creative expression and how I might be able to support others through their creative journey.

The “Morphing Pain Through Story” theme was partly rooted in an experience I’d had early in 2014. I’d submitted a digital story to Gotta Minute Film Festivals in Edmonton and Toronto and found the act of telling and sharing my own story uplifting. My goal in working with participants in the RWUC collective was to recreate this opportunity for others in a medium which they may not currently be using, digital media. It also allowed me to combine elements of all the things I enjoy most; creative writing, storytelling and visual art. One thing was certain; completing the collective would take real commitment from participants as crafting a story involves a process, especially when dealing with a difficult subject matter such loss, grief, regret and addiction. Over two months in fall of 2014 our little group came together to share in a creative journey.

As facilitator, I knew that to a degree there was no way to fully plan for how the Arts Collective would unfold. While I would put together outlines for each workshop and targets to ensure completion there was no telling what issues or challenges might arise. The Arts Collective would be as unique as the individuals participating. As we progressed we found ourselves engaged in complex topics involving overcoming difficult life experiences in a healthy way. We shared some beautiful moments of genuine vulnerability, heartfelt laughs and a special comradery formed among our group.

It is fascinating what you can learn about people when you ask, “if you could tell one story about your life that would help others, what would it be?” Every two weeks our Collective Arts group would meet and it was a time I looked forward to. As much as I had hoped to share what I had to offer, I was also rewarded with much gain and insight offered by the participants. I felt incredibly honored to be entrusted with their stories. I was also humbled by the vulnerability and bravery it took for each person to share their experience and creative process.

An important topic that arose through the collective process was respect for privacy. While developing our stories was a very open process internally as a group, our opinions on what should be shared publicly and how were left up to the participants. Their stories are their own. Some participants found most value in the process alone or preferred to remain anonymous storytellers; others enjoyed a sense of completion by sharing their stories publicly.

I am proud to share the following stories developed during the collective. I would like to thank Robertson Wesley United Church for the opportunity to be Artist in Residence and facilitate the Arts Collective: Morphing Pain Through Story. A huge thank you to the collective participants for sharing their expertise, experience and wisdom.

Untitled Digital Story

SELFLESS by Cheyenne Kean-Lemery

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