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Spark of Brilliance

Network, Spring 2004

Judith Rosenberg sought the ‘spark’ that would awaken some renewal of identity in her son Jay, a young artist whose career was interrupted by mental illness (see Art for Self-Expression). The spark she found — a vision of untapped potential and creative brilliance — became a seed that germinated to become a full-blown community-based arts program, designed to empower individuals living with severe, long-term mental illness through creative experiences. It is a program that has ignited a movement and captured the attention of communities across Ontario.

Originating in Guelph, Ontario, Spark of Brilliance has kindled partnerships in the arts, business and mental health sectors of the community. Funding provided by the Ontario Trillium Foundation supports creative workshops, public forums and community events, art exhibitions and theatrical performances, enabling hundreds of affected individuals to experience the arts, build self-esteem, and develop new skills.

‘We are all seeking fulfilment,’ says Rosenberg. ‘Some people simply require a little additional support along the way. This initiative has introduced new hope that we can all find our place in the world.’

The model Rosenberg developed includes a variety of programs. Educational forums bring together individuals who are living with mental health disorders, supportive allies (family members, friends, mental health professionals), and members of the mainstream community to introduce them to the merits and benefits of the program, and to involve them in brainstorming around arts-based activities while learning to ‘dream’ again. Creative workshops provide opportunities to engage in the arts, in a safe community-based environment, where creative expression can begin to develop. The workshops are goal-oriented and provide opportunities for relationship building, skills training, and leadership development, as well as community involvement. Community forums, celebrations and fundraising events may include art and photography exhibitions, fashion shows, theatrical performances, or authors’ nights – any creative forum where the talents and accomplishments of the members can be featured and new understandings of mental health issues can be shared. Community partners provide financial and in-kind support, while volunteer creative mentors facilitate workshops in the expressive arts.

As new communities come on board to establish a satellite, Rosenberg works with them to map out a blueprint that best suits their needs and reflects their own community. But there is a basic model that the community must adhere to, in terms of being non-therapeutic. Rosenberg explains: ‘Someone can confuse a program such as this with an art therapy program. For example, there are art therapy programs where in-patients go and work on art that is intended to express a particular issue they are dealing with. That work is processed, and over time different works by the patient are analysed to see how they are doing. We do not process the work at all. It’s all done for the sheer joy of it. We are building self-esteem, self-awareness and self-confidence. In addition to that, we are helping people interact in building relationships, which is not an easy thing for people with mental health issues to do.’

In Orangeville, an ambitious steering committee of supportive allies and representatives from the Canadian Mental Health Association, Headwaters Peer Support, the Community Mental Health Clinic, and the Dufferin Mental Health Coalition now have workshops up and running. In Fergus/Elora, individuals who currently have to travel to Guelph for programs are partnering with invested citizens and delegates from the Community Mental Health Clinic.

‘Spark of Brilliance unites all sectors of the community,’ declares Judith. ‘When dedicated citizens undertake to improve the lives of all members of a community, the entire population will reap the benefits.’

For more information about Spark of Brilliance, contact Judith Rosenberg at 519-766-4450 ext. 237 or

» Return to Network, Spring 2004 – Contents