Resilience: Arts in action

Members of the Punjabi community of British Columbia during an art-based dialogue for the Enacting Resilience project | Photo courtesy of Michelle LeBaron

Members of the Punjabi community of British Columbia during an art-based dialogue for the Enacting Resilience project | Photo courtesy of Michelle LeBaron

Upon discovering that the Government of Canada’s counter-terrorism strategy is built around the concept of resilience, Michelle LeBaron, professor at UBC’s Peter Allard School of Law, took action through the arts.

Four years ago, LeBaron discovered that resilience was central to national security and was intrigued. She decided to study this concept deeper in the hope of understanding how to gauge and increase a sense of belonging through arts-based dialogues.

Safe expression

The concept of resilience inspired LeBaron to develop the Enacting Resilience project, a three-year research study engaging Punjabi community members in British Columbia spanning diverse generations, political affiliations and social environments. The project gathered conversations about belonging, community coherence, violence and racism – all related to inclusion and exclusion.

LeBaron says the study moves from an assertion of general concern about Canadian youths’ vulnerability to violent narratives; For LeBaron, the arts not only improve experiences of social cohesion, but also provide a forum in which people can express a range of views in a safe context.

“Without this safe context, youth can feel marginalized and turn toward less peaceful means of expression or – in a few cases – join extremist groups. Arts are a key element in keeping the fabric of communities strong. They foster belonging and a sense of cohesion,” says LeBaron.

LeBaron developed the Enacting Resilience project along with Karen Bhangoo Randhawa at the University of California, Berkeley and professor Carrie MacLeod at the European Graduate School.

Homeland insecurity

Participants in the project examined the tension between twin ties to countries of origin and adopted homes and they discovered that sometimes, when tensions flare in a homeland, a few people in diasporas advocate destructive tactics. The study found that this advocacy is less persuasive to community members who experience robust inclusion in their adopted homes.

“It happens everywhere and in every culture because we can’t detach ourselves from the places of our origins. We live far away but our people, our friends, our relatives are still there,” says Devinder Chattha, director of Language Studies, Settlement Services and Social Programs for newcomers to Canada at PICS. “It takes time, very often generations, to detach ourselves from our homeland.”

Chattha has been recently awarded with a Certificate of Appreciation by the Peter Allard School of Law for her help in organizing focus groups within the Punjabi community. She is from Punjab and has been living in Canada for 37 years.

Reconciling dual identities

Chattha notes that living in a connected world, where news takes seconds to spread all over, events happening in a person’s homeland can influence their life in Canada.

“We can see a sort of detachment from the homeland only in the third or fourth generation of immigrants. They are more aware to being Canadian and they just see things from a Canadian point of view. They don’t like politicians or influencers from their homeland to come here and reflect negativity from back home,” says Chattha.

LeBaron says that one of the research participants was the target of a racist attack that took place during a series of arts-based dialogues on campus. She says this underlined the devastating effects racism continues to have, and how it undermines resilience.

“Punjabi people in British Columbia are extremely entrepreneurial and important contributors to social and political life, historically and in the present day. They have encountered destructive racism for over a hundred years, from the Komagata Maru incident forward – and they have shown tremendous strength,” says LeBaron.

In LeBaron’s experience with the project, the arts-based dialogues have catalyzed positive and hopeful social spaces, and increased participants’ sense of belonging to both their Punjabi and Canadian identities.

Enacting Resilience is now in its third and final year, and LeBaron and her project team hope it will help create awareness around social exclusion and its relationship to resilience.

“Through the arts, there is an opportunity to test ideas and express emotions of frustration, fear and anger that might otherwise be pushed underground,” LeBaron says.

For more information, please visit