For Jean-Daniel Lafond, co-founder of the Michaëlle Jean Foundation and visiting senior scholar at Carleton’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the power of the arts to change a person’s life was experienced in his own journey from a youth in France to award-winning filmmaker and philosopher.
“If I didn’t find my way into theatre when I was 14, I think I could have been a very nice delinquent,” says Lafond. “I was not a bad student when I was around that age, but I was not studying or working a lot, because I didn’t know exactly which way I wanted to go.”
Carleton is partnering with the foundation to launch the first Power of the Arts National Forum at the Carleton University this fall. From Sept. 27 to 29, the conference will bring together academics, researchers, artists, communities and grassroots organizations throughout Canada to share and explore ways to advance social change through the arts.
Theatre was a way to find meaning and a sense of life, says Lafond, whose foundation with wife and former governor general Michaëlle Jean supports arts initiatives for underserved youth to bring positive change to their communities.
“Step by step I discovered that by using the arts this way, I saved my life. For me, that’s the origin of what I’m doing and why I’m here at Carleton as a senior scholar,” says Lafond.
John Osborne, Carleton’s dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, says the purpose of the forum is threefold – to highlight the power of the arts in transforming communities, to connect people across the country that are working with the arts in the same way, and to create a dialogue between researchers and practitioners in the field.
“I don’t think a lot of what is happening is well known to the public, and I think there is a sense that the arts are some kind of frill, something that’s nice to have but doesn’t really have a practical value,” says Osborne. “So what we’re going to focus on here is how the arts – from music, theatre, dance, photography, video and circus – are transforming individuals and groups and helping communities to be healthier, safer, more sustainable, and how they can address social issues.”
The forum will feature workshops, presentations and a town hall centred around nine themes, which include public safety and access to justice, diversity and social inclusion, economic development and social enterprise, mental and physical health, and democratic participation.
More than 150 submissions for presentations were made, and 27 groups were chosen from Vancouver to Halifax and around the North to speak during the forum’s workshops about the work they are doing in their communities.
Osborne says there will be a broad range of participants, from people working in Inuit communities that use hip-hop and throat-singing to engage young people, to groups in Montreal that provide circus training for low-income youth.
The idea, he says, is to engage marginalized people in Canadian society by using the power of the arts.
The sessions will be presented in both English and French, with artistic performances taking place during the opening night reception. At the end of the forum, the goal is to produce a national agenda on how to improve outcomes and enhance the quality of life for all Canadians, says Lafond.
“If we can do that for the first forum, the agenda is also so we can have another (forum). It’s not a forum for a forum, but it’s a meeting of academics and people working with different artistic tools who may not meet to together if we didn’t have this initiative.”