Creating Space for Mental Health in the Arts

Monday May 28 through Wednesday May 30, 2018 the #BigFeels symposium explores the intersectionalities of mental health and the arts and will create positive connections in our communities through meaningful conversations.
*Both venues are barrier free / fully accessible. please contact us with any ASL / accessibility needs as this is an accessible event.
Please send any questions, accessibility requests, etcetera to Parul Pandya :

Presented with generous support from the Canada Council for the Arts and the City of Toronto through Toronto Arts Council Strategic Funding.


#BigFeels Schedule Click the headings below to see that date's schedule.

  • Enjoy refreshments and hors d’oeuvres as we kick-off #BigFeels! Join us for an evening of meeting and mingling with members of your local arts community.


    Visit the Workman Arts photography exhibit Mindset where Workman members responded to the theme of EXPOSURE from the standpoint of its formative effects/affects, whether from the point of view of having been exposed to external factors or influences, or assertively self-disclosing, exposing, and bringing to light.






    Featuring a live performance by Workman Arts’ BRUISED YEARS CHOIR composed of and lead by Workman Arts Members. The Choir has a vast repertoire of innovative, re-arranged popular songs, many of which explore themes of madness and hope.




    Community Arts Activity: Weaving our Network of Care – an interactive active to prepare us for our work together, we will take strips of fabric and create our centre. Lead by Phyllis Novak (founding director of SKETCH). MORE INFO HERE

  • 9:30 – 10 AM: registration | coffee

    10 – 10:30 AM: Keynote Speaker: Syrus Marcus Ware


    Syrus Marcus Wareis a Vanier Scholar, visual artist, performance artist, curator, community activist, educator, researcher, youth-advocate and PhD candidate (Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University). He identifies as a person of colour, trans, queer and disabled — all of which inform his artistic and activist work. Syrus’s award-winning visual art and performance art have been exhibited and seen around Toronto and across Canada. He curates and co-curates projects including a diverse range of cultural productions for diverse communities. Additionally, Syrus has presented and published on topics including contemporary art, museum practice and socio-political issues.  Syrus is a core-team member of Black Lives Matter- Toronto, often making public appearances and serving as spokesperson for the grassroots organization, dedicated to fighting for equality for citizens of the African diaspora. In this role, he also advocates for the LGBTQ and queer community, people with disabilities, First Nations – all of whom are subject to systemic oppression by existing political and social hierarchies. MORE INFO HERE

    10:30 AM – 12 PM, All-together workshop: Self-Care in Context: Daily Health Practices, Artistic Practice and Health Equity with Artists’ Health Alliance

    Netta-KornbergIn this workshop, we’ll use a health equity lens to ask: how can individual self-care practices meaningfully support artists’ wellbeing in the context of precarious work, mental illness and intersecting inequities? We’ll take a critical eye to self-care messaging which orients daily health practices towards self-sufficiency and productivity. This workshop is offered as an opportunity to identify artist-specific self-care practices and locate them within broader community and social contexts. In doing so, we can articulate a health equity perspective of self-care; connect with each other as members of artistic communities; and come away with practical and personal self-care strategies. MORE INFO HERE

    12 – 1 PM: Lunch (included with registration)

    1-2:45 PM, Workshop Breakout A (attendees choose one workshop)

    Workshop 1Building a Culture of Positive Workplace Mental Health with Michael Prosserman (Unity Charity)


    This workshop will focus on the story of Michael “Piecez” Prosserman, how he built an organization from the ground up (Unity Charity), experienced his own mental health challenges and began to normalize mental health conversations in his organization from the top down. It will engage attendees to consider and begin to design what their dream workforce could look like that truly supports wellbeing. Together we will learn and create new ideas to build a culture that supports positive workplace mental health. The workshop will allow participants to explore strategies to build from their own experiences, ideas and dreams. MORE INFO HERE

    Workshop 2: Exploring the Mad Arts with Jenna Reid, Twoey Gray and Cassandra Myers


    Mad Art and the Political Aesthetics of a Social Movement

    What is mad art? As artist-activist-scholars we will explore an historical and political canon of mad cultural production that situates the role of mad art as a central element of mad movement organizing. By doing this we subvert a number of long held assumptions about the relationship between madness and art, ones that are often linked to the histories of the asylum and the proliferation of the mad creative genius. In this workshop we will use creative practices, informed by the political aesthetics mad art, to co-create a social justice oriented approach that unsettles the limitations of our current community practices.  MORE INFO HERE

    Workshop 3: Mental Health Challenges & Services for Racialized People with Sheeba Narikuzhy of East Metro Youth Services (EMYS)

    This interactive presentation is designed to increase participants’ understanding about the many barriers/challenges facing racialized communities in accessing mental health services.  The session will also look at mental health impact of intersectional identities. In addition, this presentation will promote discussion on the existing gaps between racialized communities and mental health services and possible ways of closing the gap to enhance equitable mental health services to these communities.  MORE INFO HERE

    2:45-3:15 PMBreak

    3:15-5 PM, Session/Workshop/Panel Breakout B (attendees choose one workshop)


    Session 1: One-on-one with Elder Little Brown Bear

    #BigFeels attendees have the unique opportunity to sit with highly-respected and knowledgeable Elder Little Brown Bear to talk about their own experiences, mental health and healing.  MORE INFO HERE


    Workshop 4: Introduction to Mental Health in the Workplace with Ken Bascom

    Introduction to Mental Health in the Workplace offers a quick overview of the prevalence, impact and management of mental health in the workplace. Combining key facts and concepts with experiential exercises, this interactive session provides insights and a forum for discussion for a non-clinical leadership audience.

    Learning Objectives: Develop a basic understanding of how Mental Health issues present in the workplace; Understand how to support and respond to employees with mental health issues; How to keep yourself and your employees mentally healthier; Shift perspectives about Mental Health and Addiction. MORE INFO HERE

    Panel photo

    Artist PanelArtists Navigating Mental Health with Mirna Chacin, Sean Patenaude, Apanaki Temitayo Minerve

    Have a chance to hear the experiences, thoughts and wisdoms of local Toronto artists, hearing their personal stories of navigating mental health. Learn how they have managed their artistic practices and grown their craft into a cornerstone of expressing themselves. With Mirna Chacin, Sean Patenaude, Apanaki Temitayo Minerve.  MORE INFO HERE

    5-5:30 PM, Peer Pods and looking ahead to tomorrow!

  • 10 AM – 12 PM: Community Resource Sharing Stations

    Have an opportunity to learn about an array of local services and initiatives that are supporting artists and arts organizations around mental health advocacy and programming. Also participate in various community-arts making stations that will allow you to express and contribute to conversations around mental health.


    al green

    The Al & Malka Green Artists’ Health Centre

    The Al & Malka Green Artists’ Health Centre is a facility in the Family and Community Medicine Program at Toronto Western Hospital. Equipped with an Acoustic Studio and Movement Assessment Studio with a sprung floor to aid in diagnosis and treatment. The Centre is the only clinic of its kind in Canada that specializes in serving the entire artistic community. The Centre is an integrative outpatient clinic offering both medical and complementary care. Clinic services include acupuncture, chiropractic medicine, craniosacral therapy, registered massage therapy, MBCT group programs, naturopathic medicine, physiotherapy, psychotherapy, group psychotherapy, and shiatsu therapy. There is also a Nurse Practitioner to care for all patients and access to a family physician.

    Art Starts  + Jacqueline Comrie Garrido (community arts activation) 

    Art Starts Colour Slogan Transparency

    Art Starts: For 25 years, Art Starts programs have benefited thousands of people living in marginalized Toronto neighbourhoods by providing a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for self-expression and creative collaboration. We afford opportunities for vulnerable people of all ages to contribute to the creative ecology of their neighbourhoods, using the arts to help end the negative cycles associated with marginalization and poverty.


    Jacqueline Comrie Garrido is a Panamanian fine artist, whose vibrant body of work has been transforming dull indoor and outdoor spaces for communities in Canada and abroad.  As paintings, prints or large scale murals, Jacquie uses colour and movement as primary elements to depict the dynamic, inevitable natural process of all beings: alchemy and transformation.  Dedicated to the belief that art ignites change, and in today’s overwhelming state of the world, her mission is not only to strengthen communities through art, but to create positive, inclusive spaces in service of social healing, mental health and wellness.

    Community Arts Activation: On a coloured piece of paper, participants will be encouraged to draw a portrait of themselves Including feelings, colour that represents them, things they like and dislike and the feelings or experiences. Participants are encouraged to explore their inner self, expressing and illustrating who they are and what colours represent them, favourite things, experiences, people they love, and colours they love/make them feel positive, etc. Once completed they will be invited to paste their finished self-portrait on to a large scale surface or collective work of art.

    BigFeels: Creating Space for Mental Health in the Arts

    Hard Feelings is a non-profit social enterprise. Our mission is to reduce barriers and increase access to mental health supports and resources through an innovative community of practice. We operate as both a retail storefront and low-cost counselling practice. The storefront is a friendly and welcoming place where anyone can come and spend some time – browse our selection of products, strike up a conversation about mental health and get recommendations for services or appropriate resources. As a social enterprise, profits from the store go back into supporting the work we do. Every purchase at Hard Feelings helps us help others.

    The low-cost counseling practice is comprised of a community of professional counsellors who provide service to individuals with limited capacity to pay. Counsellors offer sliding scale rates ($50-$80 per, session) for a maximum of 12 sessions. Access to affordable counselling can ease someone’s pain, make them feel less alone and support them as they move forward in all areas of their lives.

    CivicAction_Logo e1481303958304

    Civic ActionFor over a decade, CivicAction has brought together senior executives and rising leaders from all sectors to tackle the biggest challenges facing the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Every four years, CivicAction holds a summit to put our finger on the pulse of our region to set our agenda for the next four years. Out of the summit, CivicAction builds partnerships and takes action through campaigns, programs and organizations that transform our region and make it a better place to live. Civic Action will be on-site to share and gather information for their workplace mental health program, MindsMatter

    Neighbourhood Arts Network (community arts activation)

    NAN_PTT 2 2

    Neighbourhood Arts Network is a Toronto-wide network of over 1700 members, including artists, arts organizations, cultural workers and community agencies working throughout the City of Toronto: from North York to the downtown core, from Etobicoke to Scarborough. We catalyze new discussions and relationships. We collect research and share information. We help artists and community organizations do what they do best: enrich Toronto and transform it into a more vibrant, beautiful, liveable city.

    Community Arts Activation -The Wobbly Web We Weave: Using the web is simple. On the top horizontal axis of the web there are different emotions listed, on the left and right vertical axis there are numbers listed from 1 to 10 with 1 representing the least amount of intensity and 10 representing the greatest amount of intensity. The idea is to examine the emotion listed on the web and tie string around the peg that you feel represents how strongly you have been feeling that emotion. For example, if I have been feeling moderately happy today I would take a string and tie it around the 5th peg under happy. The idea is to do this for all of the pegs three separate times with three different colours of string to reflect upon how you have been feeling today, throughout the week, and throughout the month. Simply choose which colour you would like to represent your day, your week, and your month; there are no set colours and this is to allow the user both some ambiguity and autonomy when it comes to reflecting upon their mental health. Then guide the string along the board. The rest is really up to you. You can start from the left or the right side of the board, you can decide to evaluate your day, week, and month all at once or one at a time – be creative! At the end the web will look like a piece of art, just as we all are.


    Ontario Expressive Arts Therapy Association

    OEATA’s Mission is to develop, steward and promote the Expressive Arts Therapy profession and the interests of Expressive Arts Therapists. As the united voice of OEATA members, the organization serves to uphold high standards of competent and ethical practice in alignment with the Ontario College of Registered Psychotherapists. OEATA’s Vision is for people everywhere to share in the creative powers of expressive arts to transform their inner worlds and communities. OEATA recognizes and fosters the essential values of imagination and creative expression through the arts in psychotherapy, education, social justice and community development.

    What is Expressive Arts Therapy? Expressive Arts Therapy is an arts-based approach to psychotherapy that engages and supports the client through a process of creative expression to help them reconnect with their inner resources. Expressive Arts Therapists offer interventions that integrate the use of visual arts, creative writing, drama, music, voice and movement as catalysts for personal inquiry, discovery and growth.  More about Expressive Arts Therapy.

    12 – 1 PM: Lunch (included with registration)

    1-2:45 PM, Workshop Breakout A (attendees choose one workshop)

    LittleBrownBear 1

    Workshop 1Sacred Aboriginal Healing: Elder Little Brown Bear / Michael Garron Hospital Toronto East Health Network, Aboriginal Healing Program

    A talk from the heart, an open discussion with attendees. MORE INFO HERE

    20180404_144641Workshop 2Arts and Accommodations

    This presentation is on the power of arts engagement in community, stories of accommodations and artful activity. Presenting some learning from the Dream House Project and other stories from the SKETCH studios. Facilitated by Sue Cohen and Kamika Peters (pictured at left). MORE INFO HERE

    DinahLaprairieWorkshop 3: Storytelling for Healing with Northern Initiative for Social Action (NISA) with Dinah Laprairie

    Telling our stories brings us perspective, understanding and healing. In this workshop, Dinah will share her experiences working closely with members at Northern Initiative for Social Action in Sudbury, Ontario who wanted to publish their memoirs about living with mental illness, trauma or other distressing circumstances. Dinah will explain the process she used to mentor these new writers, from the initial idea through the writing and self-publishing stages. Two simple tools will be introduced to help you start your own memoir or to help someone else begin their project. MORE INFO HERE

    2:45-3:15 PMBreak

    LittleBrownBear 1

    3:15-5 PM, Session/Workshop Breakout B (attendees choose one workshop)

    Session 1: One-on-one with Elder Little Brown Bear

    #BigFeels attendees have the unique opportunity to sit with highly-respected and knowledgeable Elder Little Brown Bear to talk about their own experiences, mental health and healing. MORE INFO HERE

    NYAC with logoWorkshop 4science+art: bringing youth engagement principles into arts programming  

    This collaborative session will focus on how youth engagement principles can be incorporated into arts spaces to better support young people and their mental health experiences. The facilitation team will present a short teach on youth engagement in the mental health field and discuss multiple projects that exemplify meaningful youth engagement in program design, demonstrating the dual role of youth engagement as both an art and a science. Attendees will be invited to consider their current practices and how programming can be re-imagined and redesigned to create engaging spaces for young people. MORE INFO HERE


    Workshop 5: Trauma Informed Care Practices for Organizations with Dr. Dana Ross

    This workshop will focus on exploring the concept of trauma-informed care and its application within organizational settings. The prevalence of psychological trauma within our society is unacceptably high which means that every organization is interacting with people, including members of their own staff, who may have experienced, or are experiencing, trauma. The lasting impact that traumatic experiences can have on a person are often unrecognized and misunderstood which can result in re-traumatization. Trauma-informed care requires that an organization be informed about, and sensitive to, the impact of psychological trauma on individuals and therefore adjusts how services are delivered. This ensures that people with trauma histories are given as much choice and control as possible within a collaborative and safe environment. This workshop that aims to be thought-provoking, practical, and interactive. MORE INFO HERE

    5-5:30 PM, Peer Pods and closing

Did you miss #BigFeels or just want to review the information from the sessions you attended?

We’re working to get as many of the presentations up on our site as we can.  Click the titles below to see what we currently have uploaded. Any Additional presentations we receive will be added as we receive them. 

science+art: bringing youth engagement principles into arts programming with Emma McCann and Joshua Miller from CAMH’s Youth Engagement Initiative and Ayla Lefkowitz and Cassandra Myers from CANVAS.

Mad Art and the Political Aesthetics of a Social Movement with Jenna Reid, Twoey Gray and Cassandra Myers

Building a Culture of Positive Workplace Mental Health with Michael Prosserman (AKA B-Boy Piecez)

Mental Health Challenges & Services for Racialized People with Sheeba Narikuzhy