Jan. 27, 2023

Healing power of kindness takes centre stage at free School of Creative and Performing Arts event

Acts of Kindness performances at Rozsa Centre on Jan. 27 promote mental health awareness
Acts of Kindness
Tim Nguyen

Maybe it’s the campfire and the smell of hot chocolate that will draw you in, or the faint sounds of music, sweet music emanating from the Rozsa Centre this Friday afternoon on campus.

Whatever it is that may draw you to the School of Creative and Performing Arts’ (SCPA) Acts of Kindness event, which starts at 4:30 p.m., follow the call, says Laura Hynes, associate professor of music, who’s helped organize the event. Why? Because in this stressful, complicated, post-pandemic but-still-living-in-a-pandemic times, the arts are good for your soul. And when the arts are focused on kindness? Well, that’s good for your mental health, too.

  • Photo above: Five, choreographed by Sierra Oszust, is one of the performances that will be presented as part of the free Acts of Kindness event, in support of mental health.

It's fitting that on the heels of the Jan. 25 Bell Let’s Talk Day the SCPA is putting on a free event, in partnership with the Campus Mental Health Strategy, featuring dance, drama, and music, in celebration of kindness, connection, and mental health awareness.

“Coming together under the umbrella of live, in-person performance is always quite special, and most certainly so in times like these,” says Hynes. “The arts are a catalyst for empathy and connection — it’s like social glue.

And after more than two years of extremely reduced social interaction and in-person events, this is a beautiful way to heal our connections, spark new ones, and help us imagine a kinder, more connected future together.”

The Acts of Kindness event is a collaboration that springs from two sources, Hynes explains. One is the SCPA’s annual Week of Kindness, which was started by the Drama Undergraduate Society in 2018 in honour of beloved drama student Michael Brendan Fischer-Summers who died by suicide in 2017. During the week, the drama students would volunteer at homeless shelters, among other charitable deeds, and they started a “compliment board” where they could leave messages of gratitude or encouragement for their fellow students and teachers.

Then there were the annual Mysterious Barricades national concerts, which saw musicians from coast to coast — including Hynes and others from the SCPA’s music division — participating in a live broadcast concert to promote suicide prevention and mental health awareness. Sadly, the pandemic derailed that event.

This year, however, a group of alumni and former drama students, led by Laurel Simonson, who was a dear friend of Fischer-Summers, approached Hynes about adding a musical element to a mental health awareness event they were planning. Hynes was working to put together a similarly themed event from the music division.

“We immediately saw the opportunity to collaborate on one event that would bring the whole School of Creative and Performing Arts together, all three divisions,” she says.

Collage of performances, and wellness booths

The “collage of performances,” just over an hour in length, will begin at 5:30 p.m., says Hynes and will include guitar and sax ensembles, dance performances, classical and folk music numbers, and short theatre pieces, among other features, all focused on mental health themes.

After students, faculty and staff enjoy the performances they can also visit a variety of wellness booths throughout Rozsa Centre, supported by Student Wellness Services and Staff Wellness.

Dr. Andrew Szeto, PhD, director of UCalgary’s Mental Health Strategy says that an event like Acts of Kindness is a unique way to bring mental health awareness to the entire campus community.

“We know that there’s a large proportion of our population that experiences mental health challenges in any given year, but there’s still a lot of stigma around that,” says Szeto, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Psychology.

“Creating awareness helps reduce that stigma, and a performing arts event, which is not traditionally tied to mental health awareness, provides another venue for individuals to connect with this message, that’s it’s okay to talk about mental health. An event like Acts of Kindness helps to increase the profile of mental health awareness, because dance, drama and music reaches a very broad audience. It’s inclusive of everybody.” 

Hynes adds that offering kindness to someone else can be as healing as receiving it, hence the central theme of the Acts of Kindness event.

“Kindness is so intrinsically uplifting,” says Hynes. “This event is a very concrete action that the SCPA can take to spread that message of mental health awareness.”

The University of Calgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy is a bold commitment to the importance of mental health and well-being of our university family. Our vision is to be a community where we care for each other, learn and talk about mental health and well-being, receive support as needed, and individually and collectively realize our full potential. If you think you or someone you know needs help, please visit resources here.

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