Snapshot: Janis Timm-Bottos

Our Snapshot article series features Q&As with key pioneers, innovators and emerging practitioners across the multidisciplinary and multi-dimensional arts and health field in Canada, who are part of the Arts Health Network Canada community.

Interview by: Zara Contractor

Janis Timm-Bottos is passionate about co-creating small, accessible spaces for spontaneous art making and dialogue in order to increase understanding ourselves, strengthen our relationships across divides, and build meaningful community life.  A former physical therapist, she is an art therapist and associate professor in Creative Arts Therapies at Concordia University. Over the past twenty years Janis has collaboratively initiated six community art studios (aka art hives): ArtStreet with Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless;  OFFCenter Community Arts Project; Kitchen Table Arts, located in a thrift store in Nelson, British Columbia; Montreal's La Ruche d’Art: Community Studio and Science Shop; and Studio d’Art St Sulpice located in a large social housing neighborhood. Janis is the Director of the Art Hives Network, which promotes arts-based social inclusion through small regenerative art hubs located between neighbourhoods across Canada, US and abroad.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you are involved in arts and health?

I started adding art to my physical therapy practice in order to engage the family in their infant’s development. Art and health go together. I just wish the medical world would embrace this more. Every time I go to the doctor’s office or visit the hospital I am struck by how the resources of art making aren’t utilized in places promoting wellness. Instead medicine has become about a quick fix with what isn’t working when it should also be about celebrating how incredible our bodies are in creating health. Participating in art together helps us to remember our wellness. I became invested in the creative arts when I learned from people with little to no financial resources and no homes how to make things at hand to live, to stay connected and to share our stories. I learned much of what I continue to teach today from the development of Art Street (1994) a studio in Albuquerque with Health Care for the Homeless and then our spin off project, OFFCenter Arts (2001).

2. Can you tell us more about some of the health outcomes you have seen in a social and cultural context, as a result of the work you do?

I think art making in a community art studio is a powerful tool of hope in the confusing and negative world we live in. When individuals with diverse backgrounds enter a welcoming space like a neighborhood art hive, a new world has the potential of being made. The health ramifications of seeing what is working and making it work even better is immense. While taking time to make something or reuse or fix something that is broken, we reflect this metaphorically within ourselves. Building relationships over time with art making as the vehicle energizes the participants as well as the community it is located in. The beauty of collectively creating healing spaces is that they help anchor people who may be falling off the margins due to a lack of economic resources. Art reminds us what it means to be a human. Money can’t do that.

3. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and continue dealing with in your work and how have you responded to those?

In our North American culture we look to the rich to set the bar for us and tell us what our reality should be: what phone we should buy, what clothes to wear, water to drink, even how to carry a gun for protection. We buy too much, waste too much and have little concern about where our food or clothing comes from. We need methods to help us remember how to live, how to care for each other. We need to locate the unusual suspects and ask for help, like how to care for the planet from the first nations caretakers and learn to live with less from individuals who have survived living without things (including homes). The art hives network responds to these issues and provides a safe place for people to seek new ways of doing and being.

4. What advice would you give your students or someone just starting out as a Creative Art Therapist?

I would suggest finding your place in the ever expanding field of the creative arts therapies. Don't limit yourself to one way of doing something. Find what works for you and with others create new ways of working. Let your education be the spring board to social innovation and never get too comfortable with what you learned at school.

5. What are some of the resources that could have and would currently help you in bringing the benefits of your research to more people?
Each art hive has the potential to be a living lab, were everyone can be co-researchers making sense of the world we live in. Hopefully as the network strengthens we can share our results through many new creative methods.

6. Looking to the next 5 years, what do you envision for the field of Arts and Health in Canada?

A network of small and sustainable art hives between neighborhoods across Canada would be great! Perhaps though, as important is an art hive in every crumbling institution in order to bring in new ways of working. We need third spaces where the tables can turn and the “experts” listen to the people. We need more meeting spaces to shift “the agency” and give room to people with differing abilities to lead.