Occasional Musings on Arts & Community in the City of Glass
Here we are at the ninth (!) installment of our every other month conversation on arts and community in Vancouver. I am delighted you’re here and excited to share with you the art that’s enriched my days and brought me into community since we last met.
I’m in (art) heaven, child.
Join me as I respectfully acknowledge that the land on which we gather is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (TsleilWaututh) Nations. Unceded means that no treaty was ever signed, no war ever lost, so the lands still belong and have never stopped belonging to these founding peoples. I acknowledge the founding peoples to recognize past injustices and to work on rebuilding relationships — three acts of reconciliation.
The Healing Quilt: Blanketing Our Lost Loved Ones
The Healing Quilt: Blanketing Our Lost Loved Ones mural depicts a west coast native quilt offered to honour those who have died in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) in the ongoing fentanyl crisis, to comfort those who survive, and to remind all of the impact the opioid epidemic is having on communities in Vancouver and across North America.
THERE IS NO ONE TO CARE, IF YOU DO NOT CARE
-Bud Osborn, local activist and poet, 1947–2014
An eye-dazzling combatant to apathy and significantly located on the west side of the PHS Community Services Society building at 20 West Hastings in the heart of Vancouver’s DTES, the mural overlooks the site of the former Olympic tent-city, current community gardens, and soon-to-be, much-needed social housing.
The mural itself is a site of community partnership and individual collaboration — people who care. Designed by Vancouver-based First Nations artists Sharifah Marsden, Jerry Whitehead, and Corey Larocque, The Healing Quilt: Blanketing Our Lost Loved Ones was produced by Downtown Eastside Centre For The Arts and Culture Saves Lives with support from City Of Vancouver and PHS Community Services Society. In true community spirit, Vancouver Mural Festival donated all services for coordination, fundraising, and production on this inspiring project.
Ovoidism & Walk of Reconciliation
Speaking of all-important gestures of reconciliation and healing, on Sunday, September 24, 2017 I was one of 50,000 people who gathered in downtown Vancouver to take steps on the road to reconciliation. According to information on the Walk for Reconciliation website, the walk was “born from the vision of Chief Robert Joseph, Ambassador of Reconciliation Canada” and “is a call to action, inspiring all Canadians and Indigenous Peoples across Canada to make a shared commitment toward reconciliation and revitalizing relationships among Indigenous peoples and all Canadians.”
On my way to join the Walk for Reconciliation, I viewed Ovoidism, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun’s installation at Larwill Park. This exhibit marks the first in an ongoing series of public art projects that will take place at the future location of the new Vancouver Art Gallery. The location holds a unique place in the history of Vancouver — as a parade ground, fairground, and sports field, a space for celebration and for protest, and more recently, as a bus depot and parking lot.
In Ovoidism, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, an artist of Coast Salish and Okanagan descent, extracts the ovoid form, a key design element unique within Northwest Coast art, from its traditional role as a building block to highlight its powers to connect land claims, the history of colonization, Aboriginal rights, self-governance, and other aspects of desired futures. Yuxweluptun’s ovoids bridge pasts and presents, reminding us that we live, work, and interact on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish people.
I also attended Word Vancouver on Sunday, September 24, its culminating day. Like most vibrant cities, Vancouver has no shortage of art-oriented “things to do” on any given day. Word Vancouver (September 19-24, 2017), Western Canada’s largest celebration of literacy and reading is a week-long festival, offering exhibits, readings, and performances by local authors and artists. Any and all can attend creative writing and professional development workshops, manuscript consultations, hand-on children’s activities, and more; there’s something there for all ages and interests. The Festival is a completely free, open to the the public, labour of love and generosity to and from the Vancouver community.
While at the Festival, I read from Landscape of The Wait, my first poetry chapbook, hugged, kissed, and clapped for my poetry pals, and pinned my wish to the Wishing Wall booth, hosted by Christianne’s Lyceum of Literature and Art. Lyceum is a literacy organization with a singular stated vision: to “explore the potential of literature and art to catalyze individual imagination, familial growth and community change.” I can’t tell you what I wished for, but I can tell you that the day was filled with the warmth of the sun and buzz of kindred interests.
Shown from June 28th to September 24th, 2017 on the incompletely appreciated underparts of Cambie Bridge, the film transformed the imposing concrete bridge into a vibrant and vivified affirmation of instincts to survive and thrive. The extraordinary, free viewing of the 30-minute film encouraged viewers of all ages and backgrounds to consider the ever-present, undeniably intimate connections between themselves and all beings and species. Urban lives and landscapes dissolved and fused with wonderful wildness as viewers witnessed the irrepressible will of salmon migrating to spawn, die, and be reborn in and through their offspring.
Façade Festival 2017
The third annual public art project and cultural event, features 10 contemporary Canadian artists, each of whom transforms the Georgia Street façade of the Vancouver Art Gallery into a dramatic playground of light and kaleidoscopic movements.
Combining new and traditional media with the cutting-edge digital technology known as projection mapping, local artists Diyan Achjadi, Fiona Ackerman, Scott Billings, Annie Briard, Shawn Hunt, James Nizam, Luke Ramsey, Evann Siebens, Ben Skinner, and Paul Wong created 10 visual extravanganzas and sound scapes to stimulate our senses and transport our imaginations.
Resilient Community Mural
During two weeks in September, I had the pleasure of watching Resilient Community Mural come into being in the DTES. The design of the mural began in June with the inquiry: What keeps you going when times get tough? Lead artists Jenny Hawkinson and Cate Wikeland, along with project partners Strathcona Vineyard Church, Jacob’s Well, and Servants Vancouver hosted a series of workshops at Oppenheimer Park, Nə́c̓aʔmat ct Library, and Jacob’s Well to explore the concept of resilience.
According to Jenny Hawkinson, responses to the inquiry overwhelmingly overwhelmingly centred on the notion that resilience means “growth in the midst of adversity, the weave of community support and the buoyancy of hope.” Arising from that statement: the design of a panoramic landscape suggestive of overcoming challenges, releasing into light, and rejoining the vibrancy of life.
Ironically, Hawkinson shared with me, the process to find a suitable locale for the mural was fraught. “Our original wall fell through in June and we scrambled for the next two months to find a suitable wall within the DTES boundaries. The location couldn’t have been better. 121 Heatley is the location of Pivot Legal Society, an organization that represents and defends the marginalized and the disenfranchised.”
The salmon represent the ongoing perseverance and resilience of the people living in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). -Jenny Hawkinson
Each element in the mural was chosen deliberately to connect the themes of marginalization and the disenfranchisement. Hawkinson continues: “The salmon represent the ongoing perseverance and resilience of the people living in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). Salmon travel persistently against the current. This struggle reflects the fight for life that many of us engage, for ourselves and those around us. The salmon also play a vital role in the natural and cultural ecosystems of the west coast and are linked to our collective identity.
The old growth forest speaks to longevity, growth from decay and new life. -Jenny Hawkinson
The old growth forest speaks to longevity, growth from decay and new life. The nurse log provides a home for the sapling; a seed that is fed simultaneously by the life of the salmon. The weaving detail that frames the image references how our community “holds” and supports us. The waves honour the Japanese influence and heritage of historical Japantown. They also denote movement and fluidity, which are key elements for resilience.”
My life, here on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish founding peoples, is a heaven of public art and a haven of community, containing enduring reminders that to acknowledge, to seek reconciliation and healing, and to dwell in respect, is to be resilent.
Of all the things you could read, you’ve been here with me. Thank you, dearest readers.
Look for the next P & H in two months.
In the meantime, reach out, leave a comment. Tell me what you want more of and less of in this blog — and in your community — and what’s just right. It’s always good to know what’s just right.
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Be Kind. Make Art. Foster Community.