The Circle Series:: Circle of Support & Arts



New art-circle support group to form in Red Deer
Group to help inmates, addicts and others


Wed Oct 19th, 2016 2:30pm


If music — or art — can soothe the savage beast, some Red Deer social services advocates believe it can also heal the wounded spirit.

A new arts-focused support group is being started in Red Deer to have a transformative effect on former inmates and others struggling with various difficulties.

The Circle of Support and Arts will provide regular opportunities for participants to create visual art, music and theatre. These kind of activities are therapeutic “really for everyone,” says Steve Woolrich, a principal in the group ReThink Urban — but particularly for those with addictions, mental illness, fetal alcohol disorder and other disabilities.

As a former corrections officer, Woolrich has seen the calming effect of artistic activities on prisoners.

Art “kindles something in your spirit,” says Woolrich, who calls the new arts circle “a cutting-edge program for Red Deer,” and predicts it will have “dramatic effects” on participants.

The pilot project will be started in November between partners ReThink Urban, Central Alberta FASD Network, and the John Howard Society. The new Circle of Support and Arts will run for a year at the John Howard Society building, with $10,000 received from the Red Deer and District Community Foundation.

Woolrich, along with Betty Lou Benson, executive-director of the Central Alberta FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) Network, feel the free new program will create another lifeline to keep former inmates from reoffending.

“It could start them on a positive journey of belonging,” says Benson, who hopes participation in the group will eventually be mandated by the courts for prisoners going out on parole.

Since the root cause of many addictions and criminal activity is trauma, “you have to heal the trauma” before you solving the social problems, says Woolrich.

Benson feels “circles create incredible connections” in the community, and a sense of belonging that helps people heal.

The democratic circle format, borrowed from traditional First Nations cultures, allows all participants to have an equal voice as they take turns expressing themselves while holding a talking stick. It’s passed from one participant to the next in a clockwise motion when each person is finished speaking.

Woolrich sees the new arts circle as an extension of another successful drop-in support circle that runs every second Thursday at The Hub on Ross Street. While the existing circle provides support and bonding through conversation, the new circle will offer a chance for creativity and creation.

Both will provide safe and relaxing places for people to gather, said Benson.

No start date has yet been decided. For more information, please visit