Since 2013, Yulia Ivanisova’s daughter Elizabeth has been a regular patient at the Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto.
At the tender age of 8, she was diagnosed with arthritis, and much of her hospital care involves many painful injections. After one of their routine visits, Elizabeth asked her mother to buy her some art supplies so she could paint.
To Ivanisova’s surprise, her daughter was so immersed in her artistic creation, that she did not seem to be bothered by the pain caused by her condition. This personal experience, combined with a lifelong passion for arts, led to the birth of Art at Heart.
“She picked up a brush and started painting. She went on for a few hours, and completely forgot about the pain,” said Ivanisova, CEO of Art at Heart.
“My daughter’s choice to break free from her condition through visual arts was a sign from above to me.”
Art at Heart is a non-profit organization that provides free art classes to long-term patients suffering from a variety of medical conditions. They host weekly programs at SickKids Hospital, Mackenzie Health Richmond Hill Hospital and at the Richview Manor retirement home. It has helped a lot of people take their minds off of their illnesses, and take some time for themselves to focus on cultivating their creativity.
Healthcare is one of the largest expenses in all of the Canadian provinces, and the majority of the money goes towards hospital care, doctors, drug and lab tests. Many times, the development of recreational activities at hospitals and care facilities are under-financed and de-prioritized.
“Some studies have shown that art activities have a positive effect on long-term patients, help to reduce stress, fear and anxiety as well as to heal other psychological traumas caused by the separation from family and friends,” says Ivanisova.
The organization employs two art teachers and is managed and supported by volunteers from the community. The purpose of this initiative really is to raise awareness about the various healing benefits that come from creative expression.
In May 2016, she organized the Art at Heart Gala, which showcases the works of local artists, and raised money for the SickKids Creative Arts Therapy Program, which includes not only visual arts therapy, but also music and clown therapy.
“Many of the artists we exhibited at the gala are artists at soul. Once they come back from their day jobs, they take up a brush or a camera, and start creating. They are not in it for the money. Art is all about your personal passion,” said Ivanisova.
On May 26, Art at Heart is holding its second fundraising gala. Photographs of the works made by children and seniors will be on display, alongside the works of over 15 artists.
Ivanisova believes in the healing powers of art and the importance of self-expression.
She, personally, expresses herself through her passion for event planning. She was the creative force behind the successful gala dinner at the Limmud FSU Horizons conference, that had over 700 people in attendance.
As the organization grows, Ivanisova hopes to continue to provide children and seniors with opportunities to grow as artists.
“We provide the fundamentals, the techniques and tools. Hopefully, they will continue to develop their own art.”