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Creative spaces allow music to do the talking for Mohawk College students

Creative spaces are nothing new. However, unconditioned creative spaces are safe spaces that allow people to do things they love without fear of judgment. For the Mohawk College music students and Indigenous musicians taking part in the Indigenous music initiative, that common love for music is what can unite them, even if words aren’t spoken.

Bob Shields, the project coordinator, says this initiative and these kinds of spaces can open the door for real relationships.

“The meaning and value in these spaces are emergent, which means they extinguish privileges … they allow for dignity of difference,” Shields said. “We increase our social resources when working together in spaces that interrupt privilege and a dominant single perspective.”

According to Shields, these creative spaces are important to break the conventional Western model of thinking.

“We have to be okay and accept what happens,” Shields said. “Within unconditioned shared spaces creativity is not reduced, linear, or determined. It’s dynamic, fluid and sometimes ambiguous, and sometimes these creative spaces are unfinished spaces. They’re part of a process that’s ongoing, which is sort of incongruent with the Western idea of problem solving.”

A person holds a guitar and strums it.
The Indigenous music initiative aims to allow students and musicians to be creative while learning important lessons. (Addison Shaw)

In a more general sense, these safe, creative spaces can provide a positive space for mental health. According to Shields, when creating this project, he found that using music as a tool to bridge social gaps may provide a buffer against adverse health and wellness issues.

“When we play music, it’s about mutuality, being present, being intuitive, being collaborative: things that are antithetical to chronic competitiveness and individualism and [their] correlated adverse health and wellness outcomes,” Shields said

Maxine Carter, the chief equity and inclusion officer at Mohawk College, said these spaces can improve mental health by allowing students to be open with themselves and others.

“I think that it’s helpful in grounding you and making you feel comfortable,” Carter said, “to be able to speak about or talk about the things you want to talk about, in a respectful way.”

Carter also said these spaces can allow students to feel comfortable being their full selves.

“I think that an inclusive space for any organization is important,” Carter said. “People need to come to work, or come to school, or come to learn in a place where they could be their full selves … and holding back on part of who you are because of fear of discomfort, because you don’t feel you’re going to be accepted, does not give you that opportunity like others who are comfortable to be their full selves. Living that kind of life is very harmful to people.”

A piece of sheet music sits on top of piano keys.
Creative spaces can allow people from many backgrounds to come together while taking part in a shared interest. (Pixabay)

Leah Hogan, manager of Mohawk College’s Indigenous Education Department, said creative spaces and building relationships with the Indigenous artists is important for experiential learning.

“It’s more than just watching something online that you’re not engaged with, to kind of build relationships with the artist, and I think it’s just so critical to a real, wholesome, academic experience,” Hogan said.

Hogan added this space will allow students to learn more about Indigenous culture in a safe environment.

“We often will hear about truth and reconciliation,” Hogan said. “We also hear about residential schools, but there’s a whole other side that needs to be explored within our communities, and that is seeing all the beautiful cultural wealth that’s within our communities that I think the students would get so much from. I think it’s also important for them to be guided … to understand the complexities of connecting with Indigenous communities and not just going in and asking for resources or for knowledge, but really, this reciprocity of exchange.”


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