Ptarmigan Music and Theatre Society: Giving wing to art’s power for learning, healing, connecting

For Patrick Smith, artistic director and co-founder of the Ptarmigan Music and Theatre Society, the arts are an essential link for building connection and vitality in communities.

“I believe the arts reflect the very best of the soul of humanity,” he said.

Smith, a professional musician and formerly a member of the Vancouver folk group Under The Moss, formed the Ptarmigan Society charity with band mate John McLachlan in 1991. Since then, the society has developed free or low-cost and accessible art programs and recitals that aim to engage, innovate, educate and promote healing in communities throughout Vancouver Island and in Vancouver.

The society currently runs three core programs; Mosaic for children and youth, Taking Flight for seniors, and Strength Within for people with disabilities and survivors of illness. Over the past decade, the Victoria Foundation has provided close to $25,000 for Ptarmigan programs on southern Vancouver Island.

Mosaic:  a medley of art for children and youth

Children at the Pender Island school take part in a music session as part of the Island Mosaic project, Pender Island SchoolMosaic organizes a variety of visual art workshops and musical and theatrical performances. It also fosters creative mentorships for children and youth living on the southern Gulf Islands. The goal has been to give students living in these small, isolated communities the opportunity to socialize and learn about their local history through different art mediums. Since its conception in 2007, Ptarmigan has conducted 2,000 hours of workshops, recruited 43 local artists, and has involved 800 children in Mosaic events.

Bryce Woollcombe, a teacher on Pender Island, credits the Ptarmigan Society for sustaining the performing arts on the island amid the increasing decline in arts funding for schools and says some children have been inspired to pursue a career in the arts as a result of the society’s mentorships.

“Having the expertise, the time, the instruments and the moxie to just do community arts is essential. Ptarmigan does this with thoughtful, artful, stubborn patience.”

Taking Flight: soars with seniors

Harpist Alison Vardy at a Ptarmigan Taking Flight seniors’ performance at James Bay Lodge.Ptarmigan’s Taking Flight program brings vocal and instrumental recitals to seniors living in Victoria and the Gulf Islands, with the objective of having a positive impact on quality of life. All performances are planned with the consultation of the care facilities, therapists and activity coordinators. For many seniors, live performances are inaccessible due to their financial or physical limitations. For Smith, this is a good reason why this program exists.

“We wanted to take our programs right to the communities where people could have a hands-on experience with artistic engagement.”

Harpist Alison Vardy, who is also Ptarmigan’s program coordinator, has performed at seniors care homes and the Victoria Hospice and said patients and their families are appreciative of the atmosphere created by her music.

“The feedback I get is how relaxing and soothing the harp music is,” she said. “I always get thanked – and once I got a kiss from a woman whose husband was a [hospice] patient!”

Strength Within: tapping the healing power of the arts

Ptarmigan staff and participants at the Strength Within summer camp for survivors of childhood cancer, Pender Island The Strength Within program focuses on providing members of the special needs community with ways to experience positive interactions through workshops and music events in hopes of encouraging social engagement, creativity, and self esteem. Activities span a range of art forms, from music to drama, to visual arts to dance, giving participants – such as survivors of childhood cancer – the opportunity to express their experiences and connect with others who’ve shared similar trauma.

For more information on programs, events, or how to get involved with the Ptarmigan Society, see For more information about the Victoria Foundation, see

By Sarah Monteith