Unspooling division through arts & crafts

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For years, Sandra Clarke drove her daughter from Mississauga to critical hospital appointments in downtown Toronto.

Protests at Queens Park often slowed down or stopped traffic. 

“Even if I agreed with what the protestors were saying, I was frustrated by not being able to bring my daughter to the hospital. I thought there has got to be a better way.” 

That’s when she started investigating craftivism, which uses crafts such as knitting to fight for political or social change or bring awareness to the climate crisis, for example.

 “I wanted to have a quieter, gentler alternative to blocking traffic or keeping nurses from reaching the hospital,” Clarke – who divides her time between Toronto and Highlands East – said.

 “It’s also a way of bringing people together.” 

At the upcoming Haliburton Art and Craft Festival, Clarke invites attendees to help her create an earth loom, made by weaving recycled textiles or leaves, flowers and grass onto threads in between a wooden frame. 

The point of an earth loom is to ponder our relationship to the natural environment and to bridge divides by creating it with others who may be different than you. 

“You can have a Conservative and a Green Party member working side-by-side on this loom. You don’t have to discuss your politics but you at least see each other on a human level,” Clarke said. 

She added that especially throughout COVID-19, people with differing views couldn’t come together. 

“It’s really hard in this world of digital confrontations to come face-to-face with somebody who is totally opposite to you. When you’re working on something important with them together, that’s going to influence you,” she said. 

That’s not to say Clarke doesn’t share her opinions, or dispute views she disagrees with. 

However, she said conversations between strangers who might not otherwise speak can be a powerful thing to witness. “I know a lot of people; we might have done demonstrations and sit-ins in the past. We’re done yelling, it’s exhausting. We’re done using a traditional method of protesting and not seeing things change,” she said. 

Clarke has hosted multiple craftivism sessions at Patio Tuesdays outside Rails End Gallery this summer and will be constructing an earth loom with community help July 22-24 inside the Haliburton Art and Craft Festival at the Rails End Gallery and Arts Centre tent.