The Art of Healing: Hull’s Artistic Journey to Building Resilience

Submitted on Wednesday, 02/24/2021 - 4:07 pm

Art is a language we all speak, it transcends all cultural boundaries and unites us in unspoken ways. And for the young people Hull Services supports, its impact is greater than one might imagine.

In 2019, Hull Services received funding towards a unique project that revamped a few of the live-in programs on campus, and for the children who are and will be residing here, the change is one to get excited about. The young people are healing in spaces that are strategically decorated and designed to be aesthetically pleasing for them, but also function to support their brain development.

Melissa Jackson, the manager for this project, facilitated the furnishings for two programs, the Preadolescent Treatment program (PTP) located in Mike’s House and the Specialized U-13 (U13) located in the Sweetgrass Lodge. Both programs received art, décor and furniture that’s specific to the programs and the young people receiving care.

Hull Services’ U13 and PTP programs are a specialized trauma-informed, connection–based programs serving children under the age of 13. The vast majority of the children who require this specialized service have suffered severe trauma or neglect, or often both. The goal is to teach the children how to regulate their emotions, improve social and emotional functioning along with supporting parents and caregivers to increase parenting capacity. The programs use the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT), an evidence-based practice developed by Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D. NMT is a developmentally sensitive approach to promote self-regulation by improving brain functioning.

“These children are unable to be safely cared for in their home and, often, in their school and community environments. Exposure to trauma affects how children think, feel, behave and regulate their biologic systems,” said Shawn O’Grady, the Program Director of U13 and PTP. “One of the key strategies which we have learned from Dr. Perry is the significant impacts of sensory–based inputs and subsequent learning.”

These sensory—based inputs include how the physical spaces are decorated, which is why this project was so important.

“The interaction between children and their physical space and social environment strongly influence how children develop,” said O’Grady. “We believe strongly that the purposeful development of our physical space includes the artwork, décor, and furnishings.”

Working with the staff and the youth of U13 and PTP, Jackson made their vision of these spaces come to life while also following the guidelines of NMT.

“I listened to what the staff wanted, and also learned about and got to know the children in both programs. I was inspired by the vision of the staff to keep with an Alberta and Calgary theme. They also wanted to honour our Indigenous communities, specifically the Blackfoot,” said Jackson. “I thought it would be great to look to local artists as much as possible when selecting the art pieces.”

Hull serves several Indigenous families and children so it was important to ensure that these spaces accurately represented their culture and made them feel comfortable.

Jackson worked very closely with Pat Foran, Assistant Director of U13 and PTP, Casey Eagle Speaker, Hull’s Indigenous Resources Coordinator, and many local artists.

“It was wonderful meeting with each artist, discussing what the programs were looking for, and looking through the very personal collections of these artists,” said Jackson. “We wanted to showcase our local artists in the themes we chose. The result was a very cohesive and inspiring design aesthetic, which I think will serve the staff and the children well.”

Two themes that Foran was adamant about representing in the spaces were the Alberta outdoors and Indigenous culture.

“We know through all the research that being in nature is super important. So being out in natural areas, in the fresh air walking and getting exercise, is very, very regulating. So we included lots of artwork that represents Alberta,” said Foran. “We also wanted the Indigenous youth to feel welcomed and at home, so a lot of the art in the hallways and in offices are primarily Indigenous. There are three murals in Mike’s House painted by an Indigenous artist that are just breathtaking.”

Foran was very pleased with Jackson’s ability to design these spaces to be artistically pleasing for the children and staff while also being comfortable and purposeful.

“Melissa was great to work with. I think, you know, maybe some people would have got frustrated with me because I was very diligent about what I wanted,” said Foran. “The kids are now super excited when they first come into the building, they walk around and go, ‘wow.’”

Several of the chosen artists have a personal connection to Hull, either with the staff, children, or with both.

Jason Fischer, a Child and Youth Care Counsellor and Family and Connection Facilitator in both the PTP and U13 programs, is one of the artists whose work was chosen for this project. Growing up treading through the great Saskatchewan outdoors, the mountains have always been special to him and he knew one day they would be close to where he calls home. His mountain biking excursions led to him taking photographs for his local trail society, guide companies, clubs and bike shops, all of which sharpened his ability to capture the beautiful outdoors.

“If nothing else, I hope that if kids, staff, or anyone who comes into our spaces, is having a difficult day, they can see the pictures we have throughout our buildings and find some momentary distraction or bring back some of their own happy memories from spending time in nature.”

To add a connection between the artists and the viewers, Jackson requested that all the artists supply bios, which are displayed by each piece.

“I also thought if the artists wrote their biographies using their own “voices”, then it would be interesting, not only for the staff and guests of Hull Services, but also for the children and families,” said Jackson.

At the end of the day, Hull is still a treatment centre, but the impact that the art has on the young people is prevalent and its impact is seen.

Feb. 25, 2021 — Victoria Cockriell

Featured Artist Bios

Hope Medel-Serate

We live in such a beautiful world. I love to document it, for myself and for others, especially today’s youth, so they may develop an appreciation for the natural beauty that surrounds us. I was born and raised in the Philippines, and came to Canada as a graduate student at the University of Calgary. I am an educator, not only in the classroom, where I teach math, music and art, but also in my free time. I have always been drawn to photography, but it wasn’t until the last 10 years that it has become a passion of mine. I am an avid photographer, and I love to teach what I have learned. I see photography as problem solving. I usually set out with a particular outcome in mind. I plan my outing, and also plan the post-processing phase, in order to accomplish my vision. I love being in the great outdoors, hiking and camping. I love to play the piano, compose and arrange music. Hull Services has provided tremendous help to children and their families, who need support to deal with unique life issues. Hull gives children a second chance to lead fulfilling lives.

Jim Pritchard

I have worked in the area of Children’s Services for over 40 years, and at Hull Services from 1997 to 2020. Hull is an amazing organization that is founded on its relationships, dedication to supporting children and families, and building its knowledge and expertise. That is why I came to Hull and that is why I stayed. When I was asked to provide my photographs as art for Mike’s House and the Sweetgrass Lodge, I was honoured to share my art, to enhance the friendly spaces for our children, our families and our staff. Sometimes, I feel like I have always taken pictures. Even before I owned a camera! Seeing, curious, wondering…framing! Eventually, I got a camera, took some courses, and started to take pictures. My eye for photography developed, consciously and unconsciously, and I began to see what makes an impactful image. It is part technical, part composition, and mainly intuition. The effective image is whole…complete…its essence and life grasped. It is a contemplative art for me…you have to be present. Much of my work focuses on nature and landscape, however, nothing is safe, as long as it is interesting! And for me…most of the world is.

Scott Forsyth

For me, photography is creativity, and I find it spiritually fulfilling. I have worked as a photographic guide for Adventure Canada in the Canadian high Arctic and east coast, for Maple Leaf Adventures along the west coast, and now am Canadian Geographic’s Photographer-in-Residence. These experiences have given me the opportunity to develop a network of inspiring friends on all 3 coastlines, and this continues to provide me with hope for our future. I was born in Stoney Creek, Ontario, and attended Dalhousie University, in Halifax. I continued with professional studies in Calgary: Law in 1996 and Medicine in 1999. I have worked as a community family doctor for the last 18 years. I am learning to fly as a private pilot, and I also find joy in music and sailing. I am passionate about sharing the worlds of communities of Canada, beyond our urban cities, with my fellow Canadians. Hull Services has always been an integral part of my community. Mental health for children and youth is a critical component of community health. The challenges facing families today are even greater, in the context of living during a pandemic. My first hardcover book, The Wild Coasts of Canada, has launched me into the world of book signings and presentations. I feel privileged to share the sights and stories of remote Canada with you.

Steve Fagan

I was born in a small town called St. Joseph’s in Newfoundland. After university, I moved to Calgary. Now, I work as an executive in the oil and gas industry. Since the mid-1990’s, I have been involved in starting and growing several companies. I first became interested in photography as a teenager. Photography allows me to capture and retain the special moments of my life-of family, scenery, wildlife and the memories of people and experiences from my travels. Photography has taught me to see things differently, in greater depth and detail, and with more understanding. I love to travel to learn about the very different cultures around the world. Life can be so amazing, and present us with exciting and fun opportunities, but sometimes, its many demands can cause us stress. In stressful times, I often turn to photography, as it brings me so much peace and solitude. It allows me to slip away into my own world to focus on the beauty of our world. I hope when others experience life’s challenges, they too will find something of their own to take away their stress, like I found in photography. I am pleased to contribute to Hull Services with my art. For so long, Hull has provided much needed support for the mental health of our children and youth.

Jason Fischer

I grew up in Prince Albert and experienced prairie life and Saskatchewan’s vast forest and lake country. Early on, I was captivated by the mountains, when my family went skiing in Alberta. Since moving to Calgary, I have loved exploring our wild places, particularly while mountain biking. Combining my two passions of biking and photography has allowed me to take pictures for our local trail society and riders. I have a social work background and have been at Hull Services-PTP & U13 programs, for nearly 5 years. I was thrilled to donate pictures to Mike’s House and Sweetgrass Lodge and selected unique photographs for each program! I love to share stories behind the images with the kids, whether it’s waking up at 3 AM for a sunrise, standing in an open field to capture lightning in a thunderstorm, or slamming on the brakes to photograph a bear and her cubs!