Basketball, swimming and puppets: Calgary YMCA first in Canada to launch arts program

If you're the type of person who enjoys going for a swim or playing a game of squash, it's likely that you've set foot inside a YMCA Calgary location.

But as of Thursday, YMCA Calgary is also offering patrons the opportunity to make a puppet or join a choir right after that pick-up basketball game.

"It's a natural fit for the YMCA. The sense of community it builds, the increased empathy," said Judy Lawrence, arts manager at the YMCA. "You're able to flex your creative muscles, along with your basketball skills."

The arts program is the first-of-its-kind in Canada and will be fully integrated into YMCA Calgary's core programming.

"Our vision is always the same, in terms of how can we meet the needs of the community," said Judith Mendelsohn, a local Calgary performer and YMCA arts program director. "We started small, with just seven classes for kids. And we have grown our programming so it is offered for preschool kids all the way to senior citizens."

Terri Trembath/CBC

Though the launch event took place on Thursday, the YMCA has already been offering arts classes for a few months — and according to organizers, demand has been high.

"The proof is actually already there in the response. We've had over 40 full classes," Lawrence said.

The initiative also helps to provide opportunity in the arts in a tough economic climate.

"We do not turn anyone away. We have accessibility programs that allow you to join our programs, regardless of the scale of your income," Lawrence said. "There's all sorts of research and evidence that says that arts is deeply healthy for us."