As Dean swipes through the images on his iPad, his eyes twinkle and he smiles. There are countless photos of people working together, laughing, holding up their art, even doing a little dance. The energy and the fun are evident. “Art is expansive by nature,” says Dean. “So are people.”
Express yourself with L’Arche
Every winter L’Arche Comox Valley holds a series of art workshops called, “The Art of Belonging.” The workshops are open to the public to register on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s an opportunity for people with and without diverse abilities to pair up, try new things, and regardless of level of ability, leave with a rich experience and interesting results.
Once a week, over three weeks, participants explore different media and create their own unique piece of art. The workshop culminates in a show at a local restaurant or coffee shop where the artists share their experiences and their work. Every year’s project is different; past projects have included watercolour, photography, painting, print making and even fused glass. It’s something that many people look forward to and return to year after year.
Growing an artist
At the heart of the workshop is Saskatchewan-born artist Dean Bauche. Dean is a husband, father, consultant, professional artist, curator, educator, adjudicator, and someone who’s been expressing himself through art his whole life. “My parents were teachers and artists,” says Dean. “And while I never formally studied art, it was clear that I had a gift for it, which my parents fostered.”
Dean studied in Adelaide, Australia and in 1978 he became the Assistant Director at a Developmental Centre for people with diverse abilities. After 12 years he made the decision to immerse himself further into the world of art including roles as the Director of Galleries for the City of North Battleford, Saskatchewan; the curator for the Allen Sapp Gallery and consecutive terms on the boards of both the Saskatchewan and Canadian Museums Associations. And after more than 30 years, Dean’s influence has been recognized by Lifetime Achievement Awards from both the Canadian and the Saskatchewan Museums Associations. Now in retirement, Dean continues his work as a full-time artist and cultural consultant.
Finding L’Arche Comox Valley
When Dean is not in the Comox Valley, he is at his home in Cypress Hills in southwest Saskatchewan. If you aren’t familiar with Cypress Hills, imagine endless rolling hills and plateaus, bubbling springs and slopes draped with lodgepole pine, white spruce, balsam poplar, and aspen for as far as you can see.
Back in 2012, Dean made his first 19-hour drive with his wife Barb from Cypress Hills, through the Rockies, across Discovery Passage, and up to the Comox Valley. They came to help care for Dean’s mother-in-law who lived here. Dean already knew about L’Arche through his time with the Development Centre and through friends who worked with L’Arche in France. So, while here it seemed natural to volunteer.
“I just wanted to be at the back of the room and be helpful,” remarks Dean. “Those first sessions I participated in revolved around crafts. I had developed art education for schools and other organizations, and I realized that there was an opportunity to expand peoples’ experience with art and expression at L’Arche.”
Who am I and how can I express that?
“I see art as a way of creating meaning, joy, and growth,” says Dean. “But before you can do that, you must feel safe. Safety is the container where people can be themselves, work, discover, and blossom. That’s crucial in the Art of Belonging workshops.
The name – Art of Belonging – creates the parameters for the program; it’s about belonging through art. The program is not trying to create artists but rather celebrate life through art while exploring a variety of media. In this way, people can experience new things and see what speaks to them.
“It’s like a smorgasbord,” comments Dean, “I want participants to try a little bit of everything so they can enjoy creative diversity and discover what is meaningful to them.”
Art is first about the process, not the product
While the artwork that’s brought to life in the workshops is impressive and often sophisticated, Dean cautions that we should be careful about focusing on the outcome.
“It really is the process and not the product that matters,” says Dean. “Art is a form of expression. The program is intentionally designed to set people at ease, so they can be themselves and enjoy. By nature, many people are cautious; they don’t want to make a mistake, they worry whether their work is good enough or what others think. We work to move past that in the program and open up.”
Evolve yourself, grow!
Dean has worked with countless professionals and non-professionals to create art. Since 1982, he has done Artist-In-Residence programs with schools, other professional artists, and he holds annual art retreats at his home in Cypress Hills.
Dean says working with non-professional artists, including people with diverse abilities, is extremely rewarding and freeing. “Helping people to discover themselves and expand through art is remarkable. People get excited about the process and the act of creation and often forget about the outcome. I love it when that happens, and you can see it on their faces and in their art.”
Every year the Art of Belonging evolves, informed by the participants, L’Arche’s philosophies and the idea of belonging. Through this program and others, L’Arche enables the spirit of community and shows the beauty that exists in every person with and without diverse abilities. Working together and learning from each other has an important and transformative effect, helping each one of us to become more fully human.
It’s about sharing and giving
Since that first road trip to the Comox Valley, Dean has continued to visit and work with L’Arche, even though his mother-in-law now lives in Saskatchewan.
“For me it’s about giving back,” he says. “I have been given a beautiful gift and I want to share it. I ask myself what can we do that allows people to show their personality and who they are without 20 + years of skill development. The Art of Belonging is born out of that.
“There are so many ways to express oneself. Every artist I know has an alter ego – singer, writer, poet, dancer, carpenter, and the list goes on. The truth is that the creative nature within each of us wants to express itself; let it.”
To learn more about this program and other activities at L’Arche Comox Valley, subscribe to our monthly newsletter and check our activity guide.