The Blog

Follow along as we work towards systems change and help create better outcomes for kids in our community.

The Value of Arts Based Research

January 21, 2016

Our Parent Guide Group meets monthly in order to participate in activities designed as collaboration between themselves and our research team. Beginning with 5 parents and caregivers participating, the Parent Guide Group has grown into a network of families who reside within Point Douglas, sharing experiences and the knowledge they’ve gained while navigating various systems. Somewhere between the development of relationships and sharing a delicious meal, the group also finds ways to test the project’s co-creation and design tools, develop new skillsets such as design, interviewing, and facilitation, and also participate in arts based research practices.

Arts based research activities are a form of qualitative research, which may access additional data or information, and can allow the researcher to view the multifaceted experiences of an individual through their artistic expression. Using art allows the project to remain accessible to the community, and the process (which includes not just the product but the activity) aligns with action research and cooperative inquiry. Art also allows the project to work with the community in a way that is not objectifying, but rather truly engaging participants in multiple steps along the way. Arts based research activities can include narratives, poetry, music, dance, visual arts, and photography.

Nearing the end of 2015, one of our Parent Guide Group meetings was centered around reflection on the past year and our projection for what we would like to see in 2016. Some of our members are strong storytellers and prefer a sharing circle format, while others feel the most comfortable writing their stories down or illustrating them. Reflections were created by the group and collected by our research team in order to develop future tools or plan future meetings for the Parent Guide Group. Some reflections were based on the format of our meetings or an interest in recruiting new members, while others discussed past design testing activities or future community engagement pieces.

During the summer, the Parent Guide Group completed an activity where they determined a goal for their children and/or family and illustrated it on three pieces of felt, to symbolize the beginning, middle, and end of their story. The felt squares were then sewn together, along with the completed stories by other Parent Guide Group members, to make a quilted narrative of their goals. The group responded very strongly to this activity and wanted to produce a more elaborate version where the greater community could contribute their stories, so instead of the felted squares and glitter glue, they opted to create a star blanket.

The meaning of a blanket may vary from person to person, but we usually associate feelings of warmth, comfort, and safety within them. Many of us may receive a blanket as a gift from a caregiver, or someone who loves us. A baby’s first blanket is an item that is often cherished for years after that child has grown, and may even be passed down between generations. While some people have star blankets on their bed or couch at home, they are also used for honouring, protection, and ceremony. The star design represents the morning star, another day of life given by Creator. Our blanket is made using the medicine wheel colours, to symbolize the strong indigenous values that surface again and again in our conversations with the community.

Along with members of the Parent Guide Group and their families, the entire community of Point Douglas is invited to contribute to this activity. By voicing the questions “What do we need in order to maintain healthy relationships with our partners, families, and community?” we hope that participants will draw or write down their answers. The drawings will then be transferred onto the white space on the quilt. Similar to our photo voice and mosaic projects, this quilt will then make a tour of the community and city, to share the strong knowledge that exists within the North End of Winnipeg.

The research team and members of the Parent Guide Group will be attending the women’s gathering at Aboriginal Vision for the North End on Wednesday, Feb. 3, from 11 am until 1 pm with the star blanket. Any attendees to the gathering are welcome to contribute to the project.