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Mural created by MASC artist, Claudia Salguero and students from York Street PS, Ottawa.

MASC: Artists are vital to our community

By Apartment613 on May 12, 2020

Editors’ note: This is the first in a series of posts Apt613 will host on behalf of MASC, showcasing the artists they work with and their programming in our community. Stay tuned for more about MASC coming soon!


By Micheline Shoebridge and Wendy Hartley, Co-Executive Directors of Multicultural Arts, Schools, Communities (MASC)

The company of good friends. A quiet afternoon in your favourite local coffee shop. Getting ready for a weekend of live entertainment. There’s a lot to miss during this time of COVID-19. Here are some other things we find ourselves missing:

  • The impossible stillness of a group of 6-year-olds as they’re pulled into a storyteller’s captivating tale.
  • The “tongue-sticking-out” concentration of a child working on a special piece of art, and their lit-up face as they present their finished piece.
  • The delight between two seniors as they share a funny scene during a play.
  • The excitement that ripples through a crowd when a group of high-energy West-African drummers take the stage or a group of b-boy dancers spin and perform graceful, gravity-defying flips.

We’re not alone in missing these things. MASC (Multicultural Arts, Schools, Communities) is a charitable arts organization that brings the arts and culture alive for over 120,000 children, youth, and seniors in the Ottawa region each year. We work with 138 diverse professional musicians, dancers, actors, writers, media and visual artists, offering workshops and performances in schools and the broader community. Each artist generously shares their passion and talent and connects with people through their art.

In collaboration with our artists, we have developed online programming that will soon be offered through school and community platforms. We are embracing innovation as our small-but-mighty MASC team works from home, and we are pleased at the response from our community to the possibilities of virtual workshops and performances. Our programming will facilitate the sharing of stories, art, music, and dance—even if we can’t all be in the same space!

Claudia Salguero painting her Be You mural with kids. Photo: MASC Ottawa.

While our offices are in Hintonburg, our programming runs from Orléans to the Ottawa Valley and everywhere in between. Our Awesome Arts program has inspired residents of Sandy Hill and Lowertown by facilitating connections between underserved communities and professional artists.

Art builds community. And MASC’s work with the community is powerful.

We’ve heard from students: “The music flowed through me and had me rocking in my seat!  They used loads of instruments and I loved it! I’m from the Caribbean—music like this just takes me home.”

Teachers have told us: “Artists inspire and motivate our students to believe anything is possible.  MASC artists are magical and bring the arts to life for our students.”

Seniors’ venues have shared: “MASC performances have brought great joy, great artistry, and opened our seniors’ minds to new experiences and cultures.” One senior told us after the performance: “I felt like I have friends, like I’m part of a community.”

The connections made during these performances and workshops are essential and grounding for our artists too.

For visual artist Claudia Salguero, “Being a community-engaged artist is an act of love: love for art, love for community, and most importantly love for the transformational power of the art when it is intended to be a tool for individual and community empowerment.  In my experience as muralist, the effect of the project doesn’t remain only with participants, it reaches the whole community.”

Former Ottawa poet laureate Jamaal Jackson Rogers likes to think of his work with MASC as “community activism, with the exception that I have the opportunity to awaken and encourage the creative spirit of my participants through poetry and song. Through discussion and exploration, production and presentation, participants are invited to ‘express out loud’ and develop their authentic voice in a safe and brave space that challenges their artistic sensibilities and celebrates their uniqueness.”

Over the past eight weeks of social distancing, more than 500 MASC programs have been cancelled. Dance and musical performances that didn’t happen; teens’ spoken word pieces that may never be performed; murals that were meant to grace the walls of a school remain beautiful ideas.

Still, with the gift of technology, we now have the chance to make magic happen for the thousands of people who would have otherwise benefitted from MASC programming. We are launching brand-new online programming, bringing together the best artists in our region with students, seniors and the larger community. Check it out at masconline.ca.

Jamaal Jackson Rogers. Photo: MASC Ottawa.

Despite these challenging times, our ever-adaptable and resilient artists continue to create. We have all benefited from their beauty, humour, and insightfulness. It has helped lift us up and bring us closer together during the past weeks. We know we’re not alone in believing that artists are vital to our community. During this trying period, we’re doing our best to support them, which is why MASC has arranged to pay our artists 50 per cent for all cancelled bookings. We want to make sure that when we come out of this, they are stronger than ever.

We thought hearing from our artists would be a way for them to continue to connect with their community and a way for you to learn more about the incredibly talented, diverse artists we have in our own city. Check back with Apt613 for upcoming profiles of MASC artists!