Cultivating Change: RE-Create at 20

This August RE-Create hosted their 20th anniversary BBQ. Each year they host a community tie-dye bbq, but this year was a little more special. The event invites alumni and present participants, their families, RE-Create supporters and other members of the community out to share some food, stories, and make a little art.  

RE-Create was started 20 years ago by Betty Brewer. Betty had seen how amazing programs like Toronto’s Sketch could be for bringing the medium of art into people’s lives to help build a network of support around. Betty continues to drive the work at RE-Create, now with a larger team and new home. 

For an organization like RE-Create events like this are a wonderful opportunity to connect with their own community and celebrate the work they are doing. Any public event does serve several purposes for a non-profit, including publicity, fundraising and relationship building. Hosting the alumni can lead to conversations about what role they might be able to play now, given their own life and stages. A celebration also offers the ability to reflect on the year, or the 20 that has led to the current moment.  

Part of the 20th anniversary included alumni speeches on “why RE-Create matters to them.” There were many great stories, the common thread was the relationships that are built by all. Marie Sinclair’s story really captured how important this organization can be. I asked Marie to tell me a little more about her own story and this is what she shared. 

“I moved to Hamilton March 30, 2012. I was 18, estranged from family, and painfully unaware of the realities of big city life. I moved into the Notre Dame youth shelter where I would spend the majority of the next 1.5  years with only 1 brief period of housing. It was at the Notre Dame where I first discovered RE-create. At this time, it was happening in the basement of the shelter, so I attended without really knowing what it was. I built lasting connections with staff at this shelter, Staff that I have run into since and I still have relationships with. I believe so much hope for the individual revolves around these connections, partly from my own experience of this being like an invisible anchor that I carried around inside me to grab when I was ready.  

How do I begin to describe all the different needs that RE-create met for me? In this program, I discovered the healing, therapeutic possibilities of art. I was navigating homelessness, single motherhood, addiction, and trauma to name a few things, and I realized when I was at RE-create, or after, I would often feel better. I learned to start expressing myself through creativity – this gave me a voice that I wasn’t ashamed of, and a healthy way to process a plethora of feelings that is just my reality of being. Navigating the complexity of cluster B traits, I struggled with a sense of self and identity, and I was able to start to create one through RE-create where I learned I was an artist. Through relationships I built in space, I heard feedback about who I was, and this became writing on my wall. I felt safe. I felt purpose. I felt belonging. Ever since my family moved back from West Africa, I had lived my life feeling mismatched, misaligned, an outsider, a misfit. It seemed like everyone had the answers and I didn’t even know the questions. I discovered photo transfers, poetry, and acrylic painting. We carved books into sculptures, and I learned how to make 3D sculptures out of glue guns. I remember using the 3 studio times a week to give my week structure, so I had some routine.  

After I had my second child, I wasn’t able to attend studio anymore – I also aged out sometime between my first and my second. I graduated through Angela’s place, using RE-create hours to achieve one of my credits. I was given the honorable title of valedictorian and walked down the aisle with both children in my arms. This was another triumph in my life that RE-create played a part in. There were still many pieces to the puzzle of my wellness that had not being solved and were put on hold while I navigated motherhood. I know now I had postpartum, but I didn’t know it then. I became very unwell and it got worse before it got better, but it did get better. I do not regret my experiences and I don’t want to ever forget them because they remind me why the present is so precious, and why I must stay vigilant in the pursuit and maintenance of health and wellness.  

In 2021 I was doing well in my recovery. I think it is so wonderfully miraculous the way that RE-create surfaces in my life, when I am ready for it. I saw the artist in residence position and applied. I worked that summer at RE-create and it was just as I remembered. Smaller, due to COVID and at the park as well for the same reason. The calm, the peace, and community were the same, even with the new location and the new faces. The artist in residence position was my first experience of being part of the workforce. There had not been room in my life to pursue that kind of growth. It was a difficult adjustment but RE-create was the perfect place to grow through the discomfort of something new. I learned how to create a body of work, to manage my time, to be accountable, and more about myself too and why I create the kind of art that I create.  

My exhibit at the end of the summer was my crowning glory. It was called SEEDS, an acronym for the ways we heal our brain from trauma, featuring a mixed media display of poetry and self-portraits describing my recovery journey. There were approximately 150 people that came that night to support both the other artist and I. It was such a validating, exhilarating, healing experience for me.  

After my residency ended, I realized I wanted to keep working. I enjoyed the responsibility, the financial stability, and the feeling of contributing. I started working at Fortinos and continued to volunteer with RE-create. I had a goal to work for 1 year, and then potentially return to school to pursue a career more in line with my dreams. Exactly 1 year later, the position for youth outreach worker and community developer became available, and here we are. The learning curve in that position was about a year. In February I applied for the arts coordinator position at K6 [Keeping Six] and I experienced a learning curve again, but this time it was only about 6 months. Neural plasticity is amazing. Programs like this that rehabilitate through opportunities like the artist in residence position, are amazing. God is amazing. “ 

Marie’s story is her own, but the impact of RE-Create can be felt similarly by so many people. The community investment really compounds when you see Marie stepping into her new roles with these organizations.  

A community BBQ may feel like a small gesture. Sharing our time, sharing our stories and making space for people to be seen is not.  

I am very awe inspired by all the people who make RE-Create a success. And I am especially thankful to Marie for sharing her story and being able to see the difference she is making in the Hamilton Community.  

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