4 min read

Introducing Bri Ketler: The ART of the Matter

When Calgary-based artist Bri Ketler was in junior high, bullying led her to her school’s art room and she never looked back.

Now the 36 year old is channeling both her passion and her past by using art therapy to help girls in grades 7 to 9 to overcome their own issues and challenges.

Bri works with girls in Carya’s in-school program, Starburst, and talks to us about her work and why she believes art has an important role to play in adolescence.

“Art provided me with a safe place to be when I was in Junior High.  My art teacher always left the door to the art room unlocked and that’s where I would go during lunchtime.  It’s where I learned to paint my feelings.  Years later I would go on to study and work as an Interior Designer but it really all started in the grade seven art room. 

I got involved with Carya and the Starburst girls in 2010 through the Community Angels, a group who give to causes here in Calgary.  Starburst was one of the causes they donated to and I remember when the alumni from the program spoke at the yearly Community Angels Charity Luncheon, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

I remember thinking that if I could help just one girl, it’d be worth getting involved.  Thankfully, my friend Michelle Seaman, a fellow artist, had the same notion.  We were fortunate enough to be seated together that day, and concluded right then that we would make something happen.  So we did. 

The classes I teach the girls in the program are all based around creative expression, in whatever way works for you.  You don’t have to be artistic or creative.  It’s about expressing your feelings in a more healthy way than say cutting or drugs. 

Formal classes in school are so structured these days, I really try to get the girls to just figure out what works for them.  That sort of freedom is usually pretty liberating for them. 

Often we’ll start with a scribble and it’s about teaching them that there’s no such thing as a mess, just a different starting point.  I think that’s something they can really understand. 

We also don’t judge each other in my class.  There’s so much judgement in those teenage years.  You’re graded by your teachers, everything’s in plusses and fails; you’re constantly comparing yourself to others.  We have a ‘no snark’ rule in my classes: nobody puts themselves or anyone else down.

For some girls it’s escapism from really challenging circumstances in their home lives; but it’s healthy, positive, therapeutic escapism. 

Getting teenagers to paint and draw their feelings is really powerful as it helps them understand, express and own those feelings.  You don’t have to paint in glittery pink if you’re not feeling glittery pink.  That’s OK and knowing that’s OK can sometimes be enough.

My wish was to help just one girl.  I think I’ve managed to reach a few.  The stories that are relayed to me about how the program has enriched and changed some of their lives are exactly why I am dedicating my time to this incredible program.  I wanted to help just one.  And in reality, each one of them has made me a better person.  It is a gift to be involved with such amazing girls and such an amazing program.” 

Starburst is a Carya in-school program which supports confidence and resilience among girls from grade 7 to 9.  You can find out more here

Bri’s Work


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