By Hilary Caton
Art has always been at the forefront of Laura Shintani’s life.
Laura creates, teaches and embraces art whenever she can. When she was given the opportunity to do all three at CAMH, it wasn’t a chance she was going to pass up.
For the past three years, she’s taught clients multimedia art through Art Cart, a donor-funded program through Gifts of Light (GOL) and coordinated by Workman Arts, a CAMH partner organization.
The Art Cart program launched in 2017 and connects artists with lived experience to patients who are recovering from a mental illness including addiction. Through this customized 10-week program, patients are given art supplies and the artists are paired with units based on the patients’ interest in certain art mediums or projects.
As a woman with lived experience, Laura takes her role seriously and is happy to “give back to others in distress.”
“I hope to be a model for clients, and show how they too are able to release their own artistic ideas. For me, art-making with clients is both serious and delightful work,” Laura explains.
“When engaged with patients, I see with eyes of empathy. I know what it's like to spend long days on a unit and how meaningful it is if someone simply takes that extra step to encourage me to find my footing, to rediscover my voice.”
Before the pandemic struck, Laura taught multimedia art on various units; however, she’s currently teaching virtually from her home, and it has become a welcome challenge for her.
Laura holds a Master in Fine Art from the University of Windsor and has experience teaching. A few years ago, she was encouraged by recreation therapists Mackenzie Lee and Amy Kwan to pursue artistic self-expression through the Art Cart.
“My role was to provide community resources and any sort of opportunity for people to continue to engage with what they enjoy,” says Mackenzie.
“For me, when I was talking to Laura, it was clear she was an artist and I know I wanted to do something to ensure that art was still part of her life.”
That’s when Mackenzie looked into connecting Laura with Workman Arts. Although it was a great fit for her, Laura admits she was hesitant to re-engage with that part of her life while seeking treatment.
“You would think that waking up in the morning and doing art is a wonderful thing and you can just jump out of bed and do it; but, no, it's like anything, it takes a lot of discipline because you have to answer to yourself,” says Laura.
“I needed to learn how to give myself permission to create again. Later, this allowed a natural bridge to form, to the desire to give back to others in distress.”
So, with some encouragement from Mackenzie, Laura was able to reconnect with her art practice at Workman Arts and return to CAMH in a new role as an Art Cart instructor, where she enjoys connecting with patients and giving back through her creative expertise.
She’s also decided to participate in the 28th annual Rendezvous with Madness Festival from Oct 15-22 this year.
While she is also still an outpatient here at CAMH, Laura says working on one’s mental health is continuous work, but she values the opportunity to come back to campus to teach clients and provide support as a person with lived experience.
“It was serendipitous that CAMH made this idea possible and I am grateful. Art Cart is an example of collaborative work between clients and staff. This is an exceptional example of what can happen and what ought to happen more often within CAMH.”