Philia - a dialogue on citizenship
advanced search
Home Events Calendar Resources Site Map Contact Us Version Francaise
About Philia Nourishing Ideas Good Conversation Inspiring Action

Art and Citizenship
Nourishing Ideas > Philia in the Community > Art and Citizenship

John Tusa, in his book Art Matters, defines the human capacity to create music, dance, literature, theatre and visual art this way:

"Art is about searching and sometimes finding; it defines pain and sorrow and sometimes softens them; it is about exploring confusion and defining disorder; it is about sharing the private and listening in silence; it is diverse; it resists categories and makes connections across them."

His references to diversity, to making connections, to sharing and listening, make clear the links between art and community. Creating and sharing art is one of the ways in which communities are built and sustained, and people's lives are illuminated.

Often people are identified as artists because they see the world differently. Because their perspectives are unique, their means of self-expression are also unique. Their art lies partly in their ability to make us question our assumptions and beliefs, to encourage us to consider different visions of the ordinary.

Nowadays we tend to think of the arts as a realm apart, even a "frill": something to be enjoyed or practised by an elite few, but not something integral to our daily lives. Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, Toronto's newest poet laureate, thinks otherwise. To him, artistry and citizenry are all part of the same ethos, and incorporating that ethos into daily life is essential to community vitality. "A vibrant urban art teaches the art of life," he explains, "but if the daily life is not artistic, inspired by intimacy, zest and sociality, the passion is missing, and a city without passion is just a series of artistic events."  Click here to read more about Di Cicco's thoughts on art, poetry and citizenship.

One of the gifts shared by many people with disabilities is that they, too, see the world differently and challenge us to rethink the things we take for granted. Adapting to an environment designed for people who are equipped to function in ways you are not is an art in itself. Creativity is an inherent part of living with a disability, as daily life often demands the invention or development of alternative ways of doing, seeing and communicating. As His Excellency John Ralston Saul noted in his foreword to Human Rights and Citizenship Through the Eyes of Artists, "having disabilities can mean a different form of observation, an approach others might not have thought of."

Below you will find links to a diverse array of organizations and initiatives engaged in making daily life artistic. Some are disability arts initiatives, others are not. All of them weave art and citizenship together in a beautiful tapestry. If you're  involved in or know of others, please let us know. We'd love to hear about them!


The Creative City Network is an organization of people employed by municipalities across Canada working on arts, culture and heritage policy, planning, development and support. It exists to connect the people who share this working environment so they can be more effective in cultural development in their communities. By sharing experience, expertise, information and best practices, members support each other through dialogue, both in person and online.

Gallery Gachet is a unique artistic institution in Vancouver run for and by artists informed by mental health issues. Gallery Gachet strives to create a focal point for dialogue among outsider/dissident artists, and provides them with opportunities to exhibit, curate, perform, read, teach and develop their leadership skills.

Headlines Theatre/Theatre for Living gives communities the opportunity to use theatre as a means to create change and to investigate alternative approaches to hard-to-talk-about issues. Headlines' mission is to have the creative language of culture become part of people's everyday vocabulary so that people and communities can tell their own stories.

Judith Marcuse Projects believes that art is both necessary and relevant to daily life, and that it can be a transformative tool for social change. They are committed to experimentation, combining dance, theatre, music, video, film and the visual arts in their projects and productions. Their current Earth Project addresses global sustainability and social justice through the eyes of youth.

Massive Change is an international project, based in Toronto, that looks at how design shapes our world. It is grounded in the idea that design affects all aspects of our lives and holds the possibility of changing the very nature of human life itself. Massive Change examines the current state of design, celebrates its potential, and challenges us to accept both the power and the responsibility of design in today's world.

The Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts in Edmonton provides a supportive environment in which people with developmental disabilities are enabled to grow and learn within their community, and to experience fulfillment through creative self-expression. They believe that all people have the right to achieve their highest potential, which includes the right to creative expression, and that participation in the arts is essential to our well-being, as individuals and as a society.

Theatre Terrific Society has been working since 1985 to gain public acceptance for people with disabilities by enabling them to participate in Vancouver's vibrant theatrical community. Through its productions, classes and workshops, Theatre Terrific Society acts as a catalyst for growth and change, building confidence and skills in its students and giving the public access to the gifts and experiences of the performers.

VSA arts is an international nonprofit organization based in the US that aims to create a society where people with disabilities can learn through, participate in and enjoy the arts. Nearly five million people with disabilities participate in VSA arts programs every year. VSA arts is committed to inclusion for all ("no exceptions") and to changing perceptions and practice, "classroom by classroom, community by community, and ultimately society."


Abilities Festival  is a multifaceted, multidisciplinary festival of visual and performing arts in Toronto that showcases artistic excellence by persons with disabilities. The second Abilities Festival in October 2005 is a full-scale celebration incorporating an international art exhibition, live performances, a video library, literary readings, panel discussions, workshops, and an open stage for aspiring artists.

Balancing Acts, an annual disability arts festival produced by Calgary's Stage Left Productions, is a celebration of creative self-expression by people with developmental, physical, learning or sensory disability; mental illness; brain injury; and/or chronic illness. Balancing Acts offers artistic expressions that celebrate and challenge the ethos and the perception of disability culture.

Disability Film Festivals - Click here for a list of disability film festivals around the world.

kickstART! is a Vancouver-based festival of disability arts and culture embracing local and international talent from a broad range of disabilities. Sponsored by the Society for Disability Arts and Culture (S4DAC), the first kickstART! festival took place in 2001 and was followed up with kickstART2 in September 2004. Click here to read Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson's comments at the opening of the first kickstART! festival.

Magazines, Journals and Online Media

Breath & Shadow  is a monthly online journal of disability culture and literature, and the sole cross-disability literature and culture magazine written and edited entirely by people with disabilities. Breath & Shadow aspires to foster cross-disability pride and community, convey the richness of disability literature, and promote recognition of the unique contributions that people with disabilities are making to the arts.

CitizenShift is a web magazine from the National Film Board that integrates written, audio and visual media and provides a space where filmmakers and citizens can share knowledge, be entertained, and debate social issues. Inspired by the NFB's Challenge for Change, a community engagement initiative in the 1960s, CitizenShift offers a unique online forum for talking about social issues and encouraging social change.

This Ability is a filmmaking program for adults with developmental disabilities, formed as a partnership of the National Film Board and the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion, with support from Philia. Through regular workshops and hands-on training with filmmaker Lorna Boschman, the filmmakers in the This Ability Media Club developed the skills to tell their own stories in their own way. View their films here...

Five sharp raps and one loud bam. That's the secret knock that will get you into the classroom of eight young boys who have autistic spectrum disorder. They have formed The Radio Club to tell you what it's like to view the world through the lens of autism...

Date Author Subject Add Your Comment
May 25, 2021 by Tom Cain Rebecca's story and dance is available on a DVD
Related Items
Check out these interesting articles relating to Art and Citizenship:

Tim Lefens' Story

Dance, Then, Wherever You May Be!

The not-so-silent legacy of Chris Mueller-Medlicott

Radical listening, radical touch

Chamber Music and Conflict Resolution

The Art of Disability

Classical escape from life on the mean streets


What's New
This page lists all the most recent additions to this website with direct links to those pages.
Philia eZine
Click on the head to subscribe to @philia, our monthly ezine. You can also view current and archived issues here.
print this page
back to top