The Michaëlle Jean Foundation will gather 400 people from various walks of life this weekend in Ottawa to come up with ways the arts can improve society.
The former Governor General and her filmmaker husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, championed the therapeutic or life-changing effects of the arts, particularly on disadvantaged youth, while they lived at Rideau Hall.
The couple has remained passionate about the issue and, after three years of planning, they're holding a sold-out forum this weekend at Carleton University that brings together people from fields including medicine, mental health and urban planning.
"For many it's the first time they are able to meet together," said Lafond, "Because it's not an academic forum. It's a hybrid. You have researchers, academic people and grassroots workers — people working in very tough situations."
Marc Mayrand, Canada's chief electoral officer, for example, will give a speech on how Elections Canada is using the arts to encourage young people to vote.
Others, including dance choreographer Edouard Lock, will speak to how the arts has changed his life.
Marie-Dominique Beaulieu, a family doctor in Montreal and president of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, said her association has never attended a forum such as this one.
Family doctors are interested in how the arts can help people recover and heal from disease, she said. She noted studies have shown music played in hospitals, for instance, can help reduce a patient's pain.
Beaulieu said family doctors are also interested in whether introducing art can help patients living in difficult situations, or facing social exclusion, which can be a determinant of health.
"When you are in bad condition, you are depressed, there's despair," she said. "Being involved in art can kind of give you power again to take more control of your life and then to take action."
Lafond said he considered the arts not as a luxury for the elite, but as an essential element of everyday life.
"Arts is always a good tool for social change," said Lafond. "It's a way for many people to be alive, to be saved."
The Michaëlle Jean Foundation's Power of the Arts forum is expected to take place again in 2014 and 2015 to follow up on the action plan created at this year's event.