RUMINATIONS – Empowerment though Self-Reflection

Written by Alessandra Cardarelli, School Programs Coordinator

photo 1
Liam Higgins, 2017

I am sitting down to write this blog post as our In Focus exhibition comes down from the gallery walls after a wonderful month-long show that was part of the 2017 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. It’s a sentimental moment for me, as I re-read the description of the show:

“In Focus features metaphorical self-portraits and reflective text by select grade 8 participants of Lakeshore Arts’ in-school educational program. The exhibition explores identity and the value of self-reflection”

In our fast-paced society, it’s easy to get swept up in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life. As we get older, life only gets busier, which is why it’s so important to learn and practice the skill of self-reflection.

Self-reflection is the process of acknowledging where we are, where we have been, and where we are going. By taking the time to ask ourselves the important questions, we gain a better understanding of our own emotions, strengths, weaknesses and driving factors. Self-reflection helps us to learn from our own experiences (both positive and negative) and build emotional self-awareness, which is necessary to the process of growth.

As the School Programs Coordinator, I have had the great pleasure of meeting and working with over 100 grade 8 students as part of our Shazaam! In Focus program this school year. This 6 day in-school program asks students to look inwards and examine their identity through the creation of a Metaphorical Image using Photoshop, a Self-Portrait Collage, and a Spoken Word Poem, which they present in front of their peers in a culminating Poetry Slam. It is a collaborative program that brings together teachers, Lakeshore Arts expertise, and contemporary artists who resonate with their students. We create a safe space and ask students to contribute a positive attitude, an open mind, and a willingness to try new things. With that, we let the self-reflection begin!

The honesty and raw emotion that these brave youth have shared from the front of their classrooms, with 30+ sets of eyes starring back at them, has brought me to tears on more than one occasion. Students have used this platform to tell personal stories ranging from scoring the overtime goal that won their hockey team the title of champions, to the looming excitement and anxiety associated with graduating from grade 8 and starting high school, to angry recollections of being in and out of foster care for as long as they can remember, and even disclosures of attempted suicide.

photo 2
Liam Higgins, 2017

Here are just a few short excerpts taken from students’ writing:

I’ve been told to be a certain person

I’ve been given goals and dreams

I’ve been told to sit still,

                           speak when spoken to,

                                       respect your elders,

                                                   be the perfect child.

Well sometimes I just wanna be wild

– Angelo Reyes


Proud and free, proud and free

Not yet, not until everyone has the same rights as you and me

– Myles Vanderknokke


Women are great. Women are strong. Let’s take time to appreciate them all. People don’t always appreciate all the things women do. Men always look at us like we’re objects and then when we react to that men automatically think we’re on our “period” but really we just mad because they be discriminating us and our body. Somebody give me a tissue because I’m about to cry from all this animosity but that’s ok because at the end of the day women are strong.

– Savanah Marius


When you leave your comfort zone you become the little fish in the big pond you realize that there is more than just you and your friends.

– Madelyn Michniewicz


As I stop and practice the art of reflection myself, I can’t help but acknowledge the power of the Shazaam! In Focus program. Beyond making artistic aspiration tangible, it is a beautiful example of mentorship breeding possibility, performance building confidence, and vulnerability creating strength.