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.

Land Acknowledgement

The Winnipeg Boldness Project resides in and works on the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary lands of the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe), Anishinabewaki (Oji-Cree), Dené, Michif Piyii (Métis), Nêhiyawak (Cree), and Očhéthi Sakowin (Dakota). We recognize that we have benefited from and continue to benefit from colonization on the Treaty 1, Treaty 3, and Treaty 5 Territories.

It is important to also acknowledge how we benefit in this territory at the cost to Indigenous Peoples. Winnipeg has been drinking clean water for over a century via an aqueduct from Shoal Lake. In 1917, 3000 acres of Treaty 3 was declared property of the city of Winnipeg to build the aqueduct. This aqueduct was built over ancestral burial ground, to build these structures, the ancestors were disinterred and reburied. Construction of the aqueduct changed the waters significantly, causing the peninsula to become a man-made island. This now isolated Nation faced many challenges as a direct result from this aqueduct; Necessities like water, groceries, schools, and mail were only accessible via the dangerous trek to the mainland. Lives of adults and children were lost crossing to and from the mainland. Freedom Road, an all-weather road access finally opened summer 2019, over a century after displacement. This road, a testament to the success of Indigenous-led solutions, helps bring materials to build schools and a water treatment plant.

“I always think of it, even when I turn on the tap I’m like this comes from our community and this water probably contains our ancestors and the spirits of our ancestor. I think about the hardships of the people from Shoal Lake 40 who have gone through so many things for the benefit of Winnipeg’s drinking water,” says Angelina McLeod.1

Another benefit we reap in Winnipeg at a cost to Indigenous Peoples and land is the Hydro Electricity Development in Treaty 5. To optimize water movement for greatest power production the Province of Manitoba increased waterflow by creating the Churchill River Diversion in 1976. The modification of the waterflow caused flooding, shoreline erosion, and changes to water quality. This destruction of habitat has caused disruption to waterway travel, fishing, and hunting.