On August 20, 2016, millions of Canadians witnessed Gord Downie—Canada’s very own Shakespeare—give what may be his last concert performance following a diagnosis of glioblastoma, an aggressive and terminal form of brain cancer. For three decades he has fronted “Canada’s Band,” the Tragically Hip. With tears in our eyes and music in our hearts, we sang along to At the Hundredth Meridian, and its lyrics hit hard:
If I die of vanity, promise me, promise me
If they bury me some place I don’t want to be
You’ll dig me up and transport me, unceremoniously
Away from the swollen city breeze, garbage bag trees
But mostly, we celebrated. We celebrated the power of the band’s words, music, and artistry. We celebrated their part in the soundtracks of our lives. As did Downie. He could have retired to live what remains of his life privately. He could have been spending time with his closest friends and family. But instead, he chose to focus his energy on creating and performing.
Mostly, I think, because he is an artist. He is compelled to do it. He knows, like any artist knows from the top of their paint brush to the tip of their tap shoe, that art has the power to soothe: “I go for it; I sing, I dance, I listen to this great band, I do what the music urges.”
Studies have shown that engagement in the arts can have a positive impact on health and wellness, including a decrease in symptoms of depression, a reduction in stress, an increase in positivity, and, in some cases, an improvement in immune system functionality. Mere engagement in the arts as a casual observer can have an impact, but to really feel the benefits get your hands dirty and get creative*.
In other words, folks: get your art on.
Art makes us feel good. I think children instinctively know its power and potential. They colour, dance with abandon, sing songs about kittens and stop signs, and build magical kingdoms out of dust and dreams. We encourage them to express themselves through art and are angry when music and art programs are cut in school.
When we get older, the instinct to create wanes. Creativity becomes a ‘sometimes’ endeavour, an indulgence, if we create at all. We come up with excuses like, ‘I can’t sing. I’m too old to dance. I didn’t get good grades in art class. I’ve always wanted to paint, but it’s too late now. I have no time.’
My challenge to you: silence that inner critic and get out and create!
It doesn’t need to be pretty. You don’t need to be Emily Carr, Shane Koyczan, or Gord Downie. You just need to do.
I write. I colour with my kid using my own colouring books. A friend journals and creates little worlds in terrariums. Another—a veterinary assistant—creates animal portraits in pointillism. Yet another sings in a choir. One friend forms tiny objects from wood when he is camping. Another, in his late thirties, got his hands on a number of electronic music pedals and boards, and dived right in, having never owned gear like that before.
There are so many opportunities to get creative in New Westminster. If you want some instruction to get you going, try a Paint and Sip night at 100 Braid St. Studios, an adult hip hop class at Dance Matrix, guitar lessons at Neil Douglas Guitar on 12th, adult musical theatre classes at The Stage New Westminster, or stand-up comedy classes at Lafflines The Columbia Theatre. If you are ready to go for it, pick up an ‘adult’ colouring book at Black Bond Books, join a Royal City Literary Arts Society meetup, sign up for a community choir, or simply grab a canvas and some paint at a dollar store.
Find something new, return to something old, and just do it. You’ll be amazed at how much better you will feel. Gord knows this:
Isn’t it amazing what you can accomplish
When the little sensation gets in your way?
No ambition whisperin’ over your shoulder
Isn’t it amazing what you can accomplish, eh?
Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. American Journal of Public Health, 100(2), 254–263