Gail Sjuberg, Salt Spring Driftwood.

Last month, Centre for Loving Inquiry presented Pieces of Her Story: A Festival of Women’s Voices at ArtSpring.

A multi-media exhibit and performance, the two-week festival showcased the artful and heartful collaborations of a group of Salt Spring women artists, all of whom were students of A Year to Love, a creative mentorship program led by Dr. Ahava Shira.

The culmination of the artists’ personal and collective journey of self-discovery and artistic exploration, community members who visited the ArtSpring gallery during the festival “opened the gate” into a space that was “delicate, mysterious, heartfelt, insightful and reflective.”

Although there was hesitation for many in the group when Dr. Shira first invited them to exhibit their work at ArtSpring, seizing the opportunity to share their artistic expressions with the community transformed their perceptions of themselves as artists.

“We were so supported,” writer and storyteller Rineke Jonker exclaimed about the safe, nurturing space created for the artists during the year-long program. The chance to create an installation for the group exhibit helped Jonker find the courage and freedom to walk through her fears and share her story of Debbie Dutton’s Buttons. As part of the festival, Jonker also performed her story for a live audience in the ArtSpring theatre, which allowed her to finally let go of her doubts.

“One of the things I reflected on, going back to the first thing I wrote as a part of A Year to Love, is how my story has always been that I am not creative,” said Jonker. “A Year to Love allowed me to change that story. The doubt, fear and other beliefs about not being an artist have fallen away.” Jonker is now moving forward from a place of excitement, instead of fear and worry of being “not good enough.”

Other students overcame fears of exposure and being judged by their peers. One student was surprised by the range of responses she received for her work, from supportive praise and positive accolades to blank stares and no response. At first she felt disheartened, although it did create an inner dialogue about why and for whom she was creating the work, something she saw as a good thing. In being faced with this situation, she accessed a strength inside her she says is new.

She also discovered that when she was creating her piece, she wasn’t concerned about what others would think. “Only when faced with what I perceived as ‘dislike or criticism’ was I impacted.”

The secret to students’ transformations lies in the practice of Loving Inquiry, which encourages students to experiment and play in an environment of acceptance, curiosity and openness. As their mentor, Shira supports students to explore who they are, what matters to them, what media they are drawn toward and what they want to create. She also believes in her students until they believe in themselves.

Each of the artists who shared her work is now feeling more confident to go further, to take more risks and discover what else they want to create and share. They are now in the flow of their creativity, dreaming into their next story or poem, painting or film.

Not only was the art show a source of inspiration for the artists themselves, it also helped open others to the possibilities for their own creativity, and demonstrated how sharing personal stories with the community can be an exciting, nourishing experience.

Interested in unleashing your creative potential and overcoming fears, doubts and other blocks to your self-expression?

The next A Year to Love creative mentorship program starts in January 2016.