Organizations offering free workshops in new mental health initiative amid COVID-19

·Telecom & Tech Reporter
·3 min read
Young woman recording a podcast in a studio, close-up.

A consortium of major media and arts organizations is putting on workshops and the creator of the initiative says it’s in an effort to help Canadians feel more connected, to learn something new, and to support mental health during COVID-19.

Ramona Pringle, a technology expert and associate professor at Ryerson University, said in an interview that the initiative, called Communities Create, came together quickly and partners include the Toronto International Film Festival, the National Film Board, Second City, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Toronto Public Library.

“This is a bigger piece to leverage the creative community to help support and unify Canadians. But what I couldn’t shake was the mental health collateral of [COVID-19], no matter who you are or what your age is or how close you are to the virus itself, we’re all going through grief,” she said.

“The umbrella question for each workshop is ‘How are you feeling right now? So for example, It’s not just a tutorial on learning photography, it’s learning photography in a way that’s going to help you convey how you’re feeling what you’re feeling… it is de-stressing.”

Pringle noted that workshops are free and each week one of the partner organizations hosts one. She added that the organizations will give the person hosting the workshop a microgrant of $500, noting that anything more would not allow the artist to apply for the government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

The next workshop, presented by the Toronto Public Library, will take place on May 11 and will focus on how to create a podcast. A subsequent workshop on May 15 will be a listening party of the podcasts that have been produced.

Amanda Cupido, a podcast consultant and the host of the workshop, said in an interview that because libraries have been closed due to the pandemic it was already trying to come up with innovative ways to stay connected with members.

“This [initiative] is something that’s really important to me, podcasting, especially, is meant to be a really accessible platform,” she said. “It’s the easiest way to broadcast… it is really important to bring forward the opportunity for people to take podcasting workshops, to learn about the medium, and to be able to go and express their story in a way that they’re feeling.”

Cupido added that during the workshop she will be encouraging participants to create a podcast that answers the umbrella question.

“That’s both the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, we really want to capture it all,” she said. “[The workshop] acts as a form of emotional solidarity. So whether they need a creative outlet or they want to take their mind away from their worries and focus on something that’s happier or something that’s good it can be that sort of outlet.”

Pringle said workshops will be done on different platforms depending on who is hosting, so it could be on Zoom or Webex or another platform. She added that there is even a graphics team put in place to ensure that each workshop offers content for users with quality.

Pringle also noted the plan was for the workshops to run for 12 weeks initially, but there’s a possibility of extending it.

“We’re learning so much just evening doing this right now, we had the first session [on May 4] and I think there’s a lot that we can learn from this,” she said. “But knowing there could be a second or third round of this… to think through how we can support people’s mental health and create spaces for community, I think there’s an application of this post-pandemic.”

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