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Background to the Toolkit

Background to the Research: A New Approach

This socially-engaged project lead by Dr. Rebecca Caines and Dr. Michelle Stewart blends art-based research methods with applied social sciences to better understand disability and social isolation. Learn more about who we are here.

For example, when looking at Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), the project focuses on the difficulties and opportunities inherent in this complex disability, whilst holding enormous creative potential. Developed in 2015, the research project started with the premise that people with disabilities like FASD are experts, and can hold artistic and imaginative potential needed in improvisation such as impulse, imaginative narrative, and spontaneity.

This is a strengths-based approach to understanding disability and social isolation through evidence-based practices that demonstrate the strength of interdisciplinary engagement between applied social sciences and community-based arts.

Stages of the Project

Pilot Stage (2015-2016)

In the pilot stage, we worked with a support group and a diagnostic centre, that both had programming for FASD, and were both located in Saskatchewan. We ran improvisation workshops testing theatre, music, visual art, and interdisciplinary games in an open and flexible structure. We saw strong creative potential and social engagement. These improv workshops held potential to create space for new kinds of communication, storytelling, life-skills, and community building. We could see that the workshops were an entry point to explore story and experience while supporting creative capacity.

Feasibility Stage (2016-2017)

In this stage, we hired two experienced community-engaged improvising artists, Jayden Pfeifer and Johanna Bundon, who then ran another series of workshops with a partner agency that they had done previous work with. We gathered information from the facilitators throughout. Again, we saw strong potential for improv to be useful for agencies, community groups, individuals and families, especially when delivered in a way that leaves room for a range of different kinds of improvisation and involvement to take place.

Connection Stage (2017- ongoing)

Grounded in participatory research methods, the project brings together individuals with disabilities, their support networks (including caregivers, mentors and support staff), researchers, socially-engaged artists, music therapists, Indigenous knowledge keepers and educators, and community organizations. See some of our amazing partners here.

From these workshops, free toolkits have been developed for release in 2017-2018. Research publications are being completed. The research has been presented at a number of conferences in Canada, with international presentations planned for 2017-2018. For more research outcomes, please click here.

We are now in the connection stage of the research, and we are sharing it with new partners in Canada, Northern Ireland and Australia. In this stage, we hope many people will take up the new toolkit and try it out, and share their knowledge.   Many of our partners are trying improv workshops on International FASD Day, on September 9th.

Please join us! Register and get the kit for download here.

Long-Term Goals: Sustained Programs and Partnerships

Funding has been secured to share findings, disseminate resources and develop new partnerships in three international sites: Canada, Northern Ireland and Australia. The project is now sharing results and connecting to new partners to build knowledge and capacity around using improvised arts in applied, community settings. Learn more about the toolkit here.

As this project moves between three international sites, the goal is to help foster new partnerships between community organizations, families and community-based artists with an overall goal of best supporting individuals experiencing social isolation through projects that support their creative potential but also fosters social bonds and community connectivity through long-term sustained partnerships committed to addressing social isolation through strength-based practices.

For more information contact us here.