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‘That human connection is everything’

Art therapist Stephen Legari encourages well-being at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
September 28, 2020
By Samia Aladas, BFA 96

Art therapy workshop in partnership with the Jewish General Hospital | Photo: Mikaël Theimer (MKL)

Observe. Listen. Create. The opportunity to take pause and reflect is a welcomed break for many — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through various online workshops offered by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), visitors are invited to take part in art therapy video sessions guided by Stephen Legari, BFA 96, MA (creative arts therapies) 11.

“We have a fundamental principal that engaging in the arts can be therapeutic,” says Legari, who has served as the MMFA’s full-time art therapist since 2017. “The invitation is to reflect on something in an intentional way — and if anyone feels inspired to make their own creative reflection, that is just a bonus.”

Each one-minute video invites guests to watch, paint or write about an aspect of the artwork featured, highlighting the paintings, sculptures and installations in the MMFA’s vast collection.

Adapting to changing realities

“We have a fundamental principal that engaging in the arts can be therapeutic,” says Stephen Legari, BFA 96, MA 11 | Photo: courtesy of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts/Christine Guest

The guided workshops are just one example of how Legari’s work has shifted during COVID-19. Prior to worldwide shutdowns, he facilitated the museum’s group activities through community collaborations and partnerships with clinics, associations and foundations.

He additionally supervised student interns from Concordia’s Department of Creative Arts Therapies and worked with the MMFA’s art hive community.

“The thing that I’m missing right now, and what inspires me the most, is the connection I develop with the hive community or the work that we do with our art therapy groups,” says Legari. “That human connection is everything.”

One initiative Legari helped implement during the pandemic was to provide an art viewing for health-care workers. “We wanted to collaborate with health-care partners and frontline workers who might like a visual holiday to come see something that isn’t the hospital or the clinic where they work.”

As a result of Legari’s efforts, free access to the museum’s Paris and the Days of Post-Impressionism: Paul Signac and the Indépendents exhibition was granted, with future opportunities for therapeutic programming in the works.

‘One of the best fine arts programs in the country’

With Concordia’s downtown Sir George Williams Campus within walking distance of his place of work, Legari often reflects on his student days with pride. “When I left my hometown of Ottawa, I got to move to this beautiful, exciting city and go to one of best fine arts programs in the country,” he recalls. “Those four years totally shaped my sense of self and I look at that time with a lot of fondness.”

When he decided he wanted to continue on with his master’s, Legari returned to Concordia newly energized. “I was hungry for greater human service. Being immersed in this collective environment of people working for mental health and human wellness through the arts — the barn doors just blew wide open,” he says.

In the years that followed, Legari has remained connected to his alma mater and to new cohorts of Concordia students. He’s since presented about art therapy and art education in classrooms and at symposiums.

“I’ve always seen Concordia as having this very strong social mission, which is more and more evident through its community engagement.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the well-being of our students — many of whom can no longer afford basic necessities such as rent and groceries. If you can, please consider making a donation.

And if you’re participating in COVID-19 community projects, don’t forget to tell us:


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