Art therapy connects U of S campus to Saskatoon core

By in News

For the first time in five years, Saskatoon Community Youth Arts Programming Inc. is bringing its Urban Canvas Project back to Saskatoon and Jane McWhirter, who works with the University of Saskatchewan community engagement team at Station 20 West, is eager to spread the word.

Established in 2001, SCYAP is a response to the social, economic and educational needs of at-risk youth in Saskatoon. Through arts and cultural programming, SCYAP stimulates personal development, empowerment and redirection to healthy, happy and productive lives. Initially operating from 2001-11, SCYAP’s Urban Canvas Project provided art training and life skills, personal development coaching, empowerment and employment readiness training, until it lost its funding.

The project has since had its funding renewed by the Government of Saskatchewan and Eagle Feather News, among other partners and volunteers, and will be operating by the end of September. 

When McWhirter quit drugs, drinking and her job simultaneously, she felt lost and speaks to the program’s significance in her own personal journey.

“What that program did for me was for eight months, I was employed for 40 hours a week to be an artist but at the same time we worked on life-building skills,” McWhirter said. “We worked on addictions, healthy relationships, healthy boundaries and confidence building. We also saw a number of artists speak and heard about what kind of jobs people had within the arts. It is basically a program that uses art as a tool to move people’s lives into a better direction.”

As one of the last graduates from the program, McWhirter became actively employed with SCYAP and eventually enrolled in the bachelor of fine arts program at the U of S and gained further employment opportunities. One such opportunity is her work with the U of S community engagement team in the university’s office at Station 20 West. A community enterprise centre in the heart of Saskatoon’s west-side core neighbourhoods, Station 20 West provides a single location to make a variety of services more accessible to the city’s core demographic.

“If people want to get advice about university, instead of going all the way across the river and going onto campus, which is kind of like a crazy foreign land if you have never really been there, we have a small office there that is a lot more personable and right in the core so people can access it easier,” McWhirter said.

According to McWhirter, having spaces such as Station 20 West, SCYAP and a program like the Urban Canvas Project allows for relationship building that stimulates self-confidence in individuals struggling to find a healthy life path.

“I haven’t gone to school for art therapy specifically but I feel like what we do is art therapy,” McWhirter said. “A lot of what I do is simply sitting down, being with someone and building that connection with someone.”

McWhirter believes that when people have the support and supplies to create something with their hands, it can free up their mind from various anxieties or insecurities.

“For a lot of people when their hands are busy, their mind gets a break but another thing art does is it builds confidence. That feeling of pride is strange because some of these people have never felt it before and it is exciting.”

SCYAP, Station 20 West and the Urban Canvas Project are working to cater to a portion of the community that may not have as great of access to the U of S or its corresponding services.

“By helping people find their own skills and establishing those skills, it does wonders for their self-esteem. I think that is what art is, it is showing people what they are capable of doing.”

McWhirter encourages U of S students to get involved, become aware and learn from the community around them.

“Education can happen all the time, whether you are enrolled in classes or not, it is really up to you. Even if you are in school, you can just pass classes and not learn anything, but it is really about being eager to learn and seeking out lessons and being open to new experiences.”