New Brunswick

Creative Connections avoids painting intellectually disabled artists with broad brush

Creative Connects in Saint John brings the art of the intellectually disabled into living rooms of people the world over.

The artwork is popular with cruise ship passengers, organizers say, and hung in living rooms worldwide

Debbie Turnbull lives at the L'Arche Saint John home on the west side of the city. Creative Connections is a place she can express herself through art and be respected for who she is. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Paintings of brightly coloured brick buildings, flowers and smiling giraffes done by a small group of artists with intellectual disabilities, fill the walls at Creative Connections in Saint John.

But the work isn't just for show, says program leader Tricia Hayes at the Prince William Street workshop. It's been bought and displayed in living rooms the world over.

"The cruise ship passengers have been big supporters," the 22-year-old said. "It's really nice to know our artwork is hung on the other side of Canada or wherever the cruise ship passengers go."

"It shows how much talent and ability they have."

Growth is in the clients

Creative Connections just celebrated its first anniversary in September.

The five core members from L'Arche Saint John, who all live together in a house on the west side, come and work with Creative Connections at their leisure.

While the money from the artwork is split between the studio and the artists, with 90 per cent going towards keeping the studio running, for Hayes, the real growth over the past year is seen in the clients.

"From the beginning when we had some members that barely wanted to pick up the paintbrush to now where they're painting endless amounts of awesome work," she said.

"Our participants can find it hard to express themselves and it's a way for them to do that."

Expression and respect

Artist Jacques Chaisson agrees. In front of him is a stack of drawings of robins, falls leaves and spooky mansions.

"That's a problem with me," he said. "That's why I draw drawings and paint paintings in the first place. To express my words."

And when Chaisson sees one of his artworks being sold, he's filled with pride.

"It shows they're respecting me and they're respecting my artwork," he said.

While the cruise ship passengers are a large portion of the clientele, Hayes said the goal is to let their artwork reach the whole of Saint John as well.

Last month L'Arche had an art showing at the Saint John Public Library, a place the group visits often.
Krista Simmons, another resident, is designing the artwork for the L'Arche Canada Christmas postcard. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Krista Simmons, another resident, is even designing the artwork for the L'Arche Canada Christmas postcard at the studio.

And while their artwork has been bought by everyone from Mayor Don Darling to MP Wayne Long, for the artists, painting or drawing isn't about making money.

"When it comes to people living with intellectual disabilities they're often put into a box," said Hayes. "There are a lot of assumptions of what they're capable of doing."

"This is a really nice way to show there's so much more."