October 3, 2022

Art Not Shame is a Guelph-based, community-engaged, not-for-profit organization for those interested in addressing their mental health challenges through storytelling and other forms of art. It offers workshops in partnership with schools, local organizations, and established community health programs.

Michelle Peek is the program’s founder and creative director.

Founder and creative director Michelle Peek, in a scene from an Art Not Shame explanatory video on Vimeo.

Art Not Shame was born out of the simple premise that the world would be a more beautiful place if there were more art and less shame,” Peek says. “Shame, to me, is something that stops us from showing up as we are. It stops us from learning. It stops us from being there for one another. And it’s not just something we experience internally; we live in a ‘shame-based’ culture.”

The workshops are offered through high schools, universities and community health organizations. They range from one-off drumming workshops with the intention of bringing people together to create a common, positive, de-stressing experience, to long-term 10- to 12-week explorations. At the core, both types of workshops are collaborative art-making in a super-supportive and accessible environment.

The organization believes that everyone is creative. It emphasizes the process of making art, rather than the products of art, believing in the important of the process for the way it “offers a space for play and discovery without expectation.”

Art Not Shame is important to Peek because she lost her brother when she was very young.

“It means the world to me,” Peek says. “I lost my brother to suicide when I was 15, and so this work is very personal to me. As a family and community, we raised money in his name for 17 years, until 2017. Art Not Shame is a continuation of that work. . . . It’s all about holding space for people to be free to show up as they are, without judgement, condition, or apology.”

Screenshot, from a video on YouTube, of James Peek, Michelle Peek’s brother.

A YouTube video talks about Peek’s brother, James Peek, and the work the family has done to combat the stigma around mental health.

Art Not Shame, Peek says, utilizes co-creative art-making as a pathway toward “speaking back to systemic forces that perpetuate cycles of shame and the undermining of self-worth.” Those pathways include a variety of visual, literary and performing arts media, including dance theatre, photography, textiles, spoken word and creative writing.

“There is no shame in feelings of depression and worthlessness,” Peek says, adding that it’s important for any community to “simply listen to someone’s struggle, to be there with them in their pain without judgement, and to simply hold open space for them to explore what they’re feeling, without needing to fix, save, or advise them.”

Art Not Shame has delivered programming in seven cities across Ontario: Richmond Hill, Guelph, Unionville, Hamilton, Aurora, Oakville, and Kitchener. Longer-term community partnerships have been forged with the Canadian Mental Health Association (York and South Simcoe), The Resilience Project (The Family Centre, Waterloo Region) and  LifeVoice (Guelph).

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