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‘The power of art and the resilience of the human spirit’

A Concordia-MUHC partnership results in an exhibition by cancer patients and their caregivers
October 5, 2016
By Elisabeth Faure

A new permanent art exhibition space opened at the Cedars Cancer Centre last week, just in time for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Rosemary Reilly: “Art is a way to help patients navigate their cancer experience.” Rosemary Reilly: “Art is a way to help patients navigate their cancer experience.”

‘‘Us, Connecting through Art,’’ at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) facility will showcase work created by cancer patients, those close to them, and eventually healthcare workers who treat and support them.

It’s part of a collaborative research dissemination project called “The power of art to promote psychological and existential growth during adversity.”

Concordia’s Rosemary Reilly, associate professor in the Department of Applied Human Sciences, was a partner in its creation.

“In working with the research team, I was awestruck by the power that art making was having on the lives and experiences of women with breast cancer,” says Reilly. “I was also impressed with the beauty of their work. Many had not made art since they were children.”

Reilly got involved with the project while doing research with La Ruche d’Art. There she met Kate Laux an art therapist, who introduced her to Virginia Lee, an MUHC nurse researcher heading a research group with Cedars CanSupport, which provides services and assistance to cancer patients and their families.

The organization’s director, Andréanne Robitaille, is also a partner on the project.

“Art was a way to help patients manage the emotional impact of their diagnosis and treatment,” says Reilly.

The research received funding from Concordia’s Centre for Human Relations and Community Studies, the Quebec Nursing Intervention Research Network (RRISIQ) and the Fonds de recherche du Québec ‑ Santé (FRSQ), while the exhibition site was supported by SSHRC.

The research being highlighted and disseminated demonstrates the effectiveness of art making for women with breast cancer as an empowering and therapeutic tool.

‘The power of art and the resilience of the human spirit’

The body of work that grew out of the project is now large enough for not one, but three exhibitions. This exhibition at the Cedars Cancer Centre’s Us, Connecting through Art features work by cancer patients.

“With each changing season, this space will give expression to the diverse experiences, lived or witnessed, by all who have been touched by cancer,” Reilly says. The permanent gallery will be continuously refreshed with new works. 

“It will be a collective space for and by the members of the CanSupport communityto face and heal together from the adversity of the disease.”

Two other exhibitions are taking place from October 1 to 21 at La Ruche d’Art, an open community art studio in St. Henri, and from October 3 to 31 at the Benny Library in NDG.

Reilly admits the project faced some challenges. “When you propose a joint effort with multiple community partners, it is often in the abstract. As time passes, situations shift and change.”

The initiative came together in spite of the challenges, though, and so far participants have produced an impressive body of creative work

“This project has highlighted the power of art, the resilience of the human spirit and how connected these two are,” Reilly says.

Going forward, the research team hopes to pursue further funding to investigate how art making and other tools can support individuals with cancer.

October 1 marks the start of
Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Learn more about the “Art of Adversity” project and permanent art exhibition.  

Check out Concordia’s Centre for Human Relations and Community Studies.



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