Arts Improve Mental and Physical Health

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Written by Sonya Young

Can you quilt your way through a pandemic? “Through this pandemic, everyone has been through some tragedy in general,” says Karen Cooper, President of the Etobicoke Quilters’ Guild (EQG) and a quilter for over 30 years. The Guild is a Resident Group at Neilson Park Creative Centre (NPCC). “It comes back to community with us. We try to help each other out through hard times.”

 “Quilting takes you out of your head,” says Cooper. “When you are done you have something to show for it.” Quilting is gratifying and emotionally healthy and you are using the creative side of your brain.

And there’s proof: Making art can enable people to take greater responsibility of their own health and wellbeing by helping maintain levels of independency and curiosity and improve the quality of life by bringing greater joy, per the Mental Health Foundation in the UK. 1

Their blog goes on to say engaging in arts, social activities and interaction within our communities can help with major challenges such as ageing and loneliness. Doing so can help boost confidence and make us feel more engaged and resilient. Besides these benefits, art engagement also alleviates anxiety, depression and stress.

NPCC is a member of ArtBridges, a hub and forum for connection for anyone interested in or active in community-engaged arts and arts for social change in Canada. “Through art, one can escape the challenges of the daily grind and struggles we face through imagination and creativity, says Seanna Connell, Director of ArtBridges. “This can restore a sense of peace and possibility, which can shift one’s perspective on life and lift spirits up, making one feel good.”

“Physically engaging in artistic activity by using our hands, senses, parts of our bodies … to touch, feel, play, move, can lift us out of the repetitious physicality of our day-to-day lives and can make us feel good and contribute to overall health and a feeling of wellbeing,” says Connell. “Engaging in art with others can take us to a place of harmony, out of our usual roles, engaging in a different way with people, this can open up our minds and contribute to healing.”

“It is moving and powerful to see people connecting and trying to maintain this community connection. People know there is something they can turn to,” says Cooper. Monthly Members’ Meetings take place on the third Monday of each month via Neilson Park Creative Centre, and more relaxed gatherings happen every Monday and Wednesday morning.  The meetings are online for now. They’ve also started a Quilters’ Book Club (where members gather on Zoom or the phone to discuss quilt-related novels).

Their art and craft have helped members forge strong connections long before the pandemic. These strong ties have led to a fundraiser.

Brighter Days Fundraiser

The Guild is having an online fundraiser July 5 – 26 on Neilson Park Creative Centre’ website to benefit mental health with donations going to LOFT community services, a mental health organization. Members and those from other guilds made quilts to raise funds for mental health.

The impetus for the sale is how do we manage our grief around the pandemic and these challenging times? says Cooper. The fundraiser is a dedication to LOFT members and to anyone who has lost someone through Covid-19.

Mental health problems touch everyone, she notes. Statistics back this up. according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada: In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental illness or addiction problem.2

Working with fabric and making things helps us get handle on our mental health, Cooper says. When a family member is going through something, we can give them a quit. It is a tangible thing to give. The group continues to rally when they need support—one week they had 50 members join their online session.

To find out more about the fundraiser, please see NPCC’s website.

Connections with Postcards

The Guild has turned their craft into connection for those who are not quilters as well.

“Our Membership Coordinator was trying to reach out to members who are not on Zoom. We decided to send quilted postcards out to members or anyone who needed cheering up. We had an online workshop to show how to do it and nearly 60 people joined. They learned how to put fabric on top of cardboard. You just address it and stamp it and it goes through the mail. It is something to brighten their day. And you can see it every day a reminder of that person,” Karen remarked.

Well-being and Community
The Etobicoke Quilters’ Guild is one of six resident groups who use NPCC space for their art and craft. “Each Resident Group tackled going virtual with our programming and the importance, especially to mental health and well-being, of remaining engaged with our memberships,” the Resident Groups and Stakeholder’s Committee’s outgoing chair Nancy Moniz reported.

“Back in March 2020, when the pandemic began, we were suddenly faced with challenges such as isolation, fear and confusion,” says Executive Director Petra Nyendick. “To ensure the mental health of our community, the only way we could stay connected was virtually. We immediately took the plunge to pivot to online programming and it was well worth all the efforts. I must congratulate the community we serve. Many citizens adjusted, enrolled in our virtual offerings, and were able to continue enjoying the many benefits of arts education.”

To find out more about ArtBridges, please see their website at

1. The Mental Health Foundation UK:

2. Smetanin et al. (2011). The life and economic impact of major mental illnesses in Canada: 2011-2041. Prepared for the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Toronto: RiskAnalytica. Cited on CAMH website: Mental Illness and Addiction: Facts and Statistics | CAMH


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