The Ottawa Mission began as a place that offered men in need a safe bed and a meal. It has since evolved into a place that offers a wide range of programs and services to address the ever-changing needs of people experiencing homelessness. We offer hope to people in the community who need it most—you can learn more in our newsletter’s stories about people who have accessed our services.

Challenge

The Ottawa Mission began as a place that offered men in need a safe bed and meal, and it has since evolved to offer a wide range of program an services to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness. Its Stepping Stones Learning Centre (Stepping Stones) is designed to support men and women who wish to improve their education. Knowing that creativity helps spur learning, Stepping Stones is always seeking new ways to incorporate the arts into its offerings, however current budgets do not support ongoing arts programming.

Approach

Art Place, a three-year pilot project artist-in-residence program by AOE Arts Council, partnered Stepping Stones with theatre artist Sarah Conn, a member of STO Union and 2016 Siminovitch Prize Protégée, to co-create a storytelling and theatre project at no cost to The Ottawa Mission. For her project, entitled Trophy, Conn spent six weeks working one-on-one with participants at Stepping Stones and asked them to tell stories about their lives and current situation. Together, Sarah and the participants identified key moments in their lives and created both written and audio recordings of these stories. Conn and the participants presented their stories in Trophy, a living board game that was presented at the inaugural Art Place showcase, held at Bruyère Continuing Care on February 25, 2015.

Impact

Through community engaged art, participants of the Stepping Stones program were given a platform through which to share their experiences and impact members of other communities who encountered their stories through Trophy. The Art Place program not only provided participants with a more engaged learning experience, but also gave Conn the space to explore art as a vehicle for social change.

I hadn’t done much community engagement work, so it was kind of like being thrown in the fire. It opened my eyes to people who are right around the corner from me, but I didn’t know anything about their lives…One guy said, “this project is going to be amazing because we can make it amazing.” They had a huge investment. The stories they told me were incredibly open and vulnerable, but because of their life situations they couldn’t follow through as much as I would have liked.
– Sarah Conn

It’s important for me to move on, continue and push myself a little bit in spite of the fear because that’s where courage comes from. It’s taking action when you are afraid…It’s kind of scary, but I recognize that is ok. I need to push through because there is nothing to fear except being stuck and that’s the part I am getting better at; moving on.
– Tom, participant at The Ottawa Mission

This project was a positive experience for our students. They really enjoyed the process and, I am trying to encourage the students’ creative sides.
– The Ottawa Mission

Legacy

Since her Art Place residency, Conn has continued exploring community partnerships through storytelling and interactive performances. Trophy has been presented in different forms at Ottawa-Gatineau’s Nuit Blanche (2015), SummerWorks in Toronto (2016) and at In the Soil Arts Festival in St. Catharine’s (2016). Through this project, Conn developed her community outreach skills and will present a city-wide version of Trophy in Ottawa as part of the Ottawa 2017 Arts, Culture and Heritage Investment Program for the Canada 150 celebrations in June 2017.

Left: Sarah Conn is a member of STO Union. Photo credit: Alexandra Campeau, AOE Arts Council

Right: Sarah Conn in conversation with one of the participants from the Ottawa Mission about the different moments that make up a life.

Photo credit: Alexandra Campeau

The second iteration of Trophy took place during Nuit Blanche Ottawa Gatineau in 2015 and was the first version to use the tent model.

Photo credit: Sarah Conn

Trophy in Ottawa as part of the Ottawa 2017 Arts, Culture and Heritage Investment Program for the Canada 150 celebrations in June 2017.

Photo credit: Vincent Kember

AOE Arts Council sincerely thanks all the artists, non-profit host partners and the following donors and funders who make this program a reality: Ontario Trillium Foundation, Community Foundation of Ottawa, Community Foundations of Canada’s Community Fund for Canada’s 150th 2016-2017, the Shenkman Family Foundation, the Danbe Foundation and the City of Ottawa Community Art and Social Engagement Program.