Closing the Box of Light – for now!

We did it! Our final celebration at the Carving Pavilion was a special culmination of a year-long journey. We spent the morning cleaning out the Pavilion, opening the doors and moving the Canoe with a team of helpers. It felt somewhat ceremonial to make the space inviting, and inviting it was – we laid out a spread of smoked salmon, meats, cheeses, fruit and veggies, juice and coffee, and created a cozy seating area where people could relax and eat. We welcomed participants from the Elders Healthy Choices group as well as our faithful programmer Ellen, and some members of the public who weren’t sure what they had stumbled in on, but were glad they did!

Ronnie gave a beautiful slideshow presentation with visual word clouds of all the ideas collected from community since July 2016. It was good to look back on the myriad conversations we’d had within the Britannia community, and also to reflect on our relationship built, and to thank each other for the patience, dedication and openness required to work together and complete this project. Then the Movement Workshop participants, including many of the seniors, showed their piece – a creative and courageous bunch to experiment with a loop station! They put their voices and gestures out to the world, gifting back the poetry we’d collected from other community members and adding their own interpretations. I was very proud of what we accomplished together in a short period of time. We were sad to say goodbye at the end of the day.

This has been a real learning experience for me, one I am very grateful for. It has deepened my understanding of working within and alongside a community and also alongside a collaborator. A collaboration has its own life and is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Ronnie and I each approached this Artist-in-Community residency with our own understandings of what it meant and over the course of the year something new developed that neither of us would have imagined. It was challenging at times, especially working within a framework in which we were not only accountable to each other but to an external structure. It involved a great deal of letting go and coming back to what really mattered again and again. Although we intentionally set out NOT to make this project a project about reconciliation, it was – and I heard Ronnie say this too – an experience of what reconciliation can mean when put into practice. As my understanding grows I learn more and more what I don’t yet understand, I become more humble and receptive. I also gain a better sense of what I have to offer and become more confident in offering it.

So, as we put the lid on this Box of Light, I am thanking all the people who supported us in this project, and in particular all of the community members who shared their stories, words, dreams, and experiences with us over the course of the year. If we think of each life as a box of light, each of them has added some glow to mine. This is the glitter that remains!






Intergenerational Wordclouds

In mid-February, Ronnie and I had the fun of leading workshops for two groups of kids with the Out-of-School Care program. This was definitely a demographic we hadn’t explored at Britannia yet, and an essential one because a huge part of Britannia’s sparkle is the presence of so many children and youth. Having had such a fruitful session with the Elders, we were excited to bring their words to the kids and see what they would do with them.

Ronnie spent the night before compiling and organizing words from the Elder’s wordcloud creation session. On Valentine’s Day, we sliced dozens if not hundreds of words up with the paper cutter at the Info Centre and headed over to the Out-of-School care building. We had a hand-drafted Valentine’s card template for each place setting. Our set-up of art materials was impeccable, soon to be happily destroyed by a crowd of 5-7 year olds.



It was quiet at first, and we played with making our own pieces, wondering if any kids would, in fact, materialize. At the stroke of 3:10pm, there were shouts, laughter, and bangs on the closed door. We looked at each other – they’re here!!!

After getting them excited about the Box of Light idea and making art with words from Elders in the community, we ushered them over to the tables. We encouraged kids to add words they loved that were missing, and decorate their own “Valentine to Britannia”. It was incredible how every child had their own take on the instructions we’d given, their own creative intent to express. Some really took to it and were super focused, others dumped the box of words on the table and cut their hearts up into slivers like performance artists. It was a lovely mayhem, and 45 minutes later we emerged with some beautiful pieces:

The next day was a repeat performance with 7 – 10 year olds – a bit of a tougher crowd (!), but there were a few who, again, really took to it and enjoyed the challenge of working with words. All in all it was a fun experience and made me want to sit down with the kids and really get to know them – so many imaginative thoughts going through those little heads. An enormous source of light for the community to be sure. We look forward to sharing their work with the Elders, passing the belated Valentines along!


New Year for Box of Light


I’m excited to be heading back into our Britannia Artists-in-Communities Residency with renewed energy! The fall and winter have been a real learning experience about entering into a new collaboration and new community setting. Ronnie and I have visited many of the groups that make up Britannia and been amazed at the warmth, complexity and diversity we’ve found. The network of relationships that sustains and holds up this community is palpable, and can only have developed as it has: over time and with the commitment and participation of countless people. We have a privileged role of moving between the different solar systems within the Britannia galaxy. There is a lot of light here!

With these initial months behind us, our project has taken shape. Each time we are welcomed into a group, be it the Seniors program or the Library Staff, the Board of Directors or the children’s Out-of-School Care program, we come out the other side having collaboratively identified something precious – an essence, usually in the form of a poetic statement, of what Britannia means to that particular group and what it, in turn, means to Britannia. We are looking forward now, in the coming months, to visiting more groups with a clear intent of distilling and collecting these essences. Then, we’ll share them with the wider community through a variety of media. We’ll make “Box of Light” displays for the Info Centre gallery space. Ronnie will create word clouds that show visually what the most important ideas are, and we’ll create projected installations with them. Mural painting may be in the works with the collaboration of a local painter. I’ll lead a group of community members in creating a movement piece that responds to the information collected. A chapbook is under consideration. All of this community inquiry and expression will culminate in a celebration in the Carving Pavilion in June – stay tuned for more details!

The best moments for me are when we are in that sacred space with a group of people when we all sense the presence of poetry. That’s the moment when the air is charged and something prickles the back of your neck. In addition, I am learning much from Ronnie’s ability to take what a community expresses about itself and hold it up in such a way as to honour it, and leave everyone in the room feeling as though they’ve been deeply acknowledged. This acknowledgement and poetic magic is what I want to cultivate over the next 5 – 6 months. It will be very rewarding to share what has emerged from these intimate processes with the wider community and have fun!

And of course, thanks to Ellen, our fearless and very patient Arts Programmer who has linked us with so many wonderful people and kept us on track!

With light,


Britannia Elders – Realms of Refuge


Our workshop in October with the Seniors Healthy Choices program was one of our first with community groups at Britannia. Amid tea and cookies, we arrived with our markers and flip charts feeling a bit shy. But we were welcomed so graciously that we quickly felt at ease. The 10 participants had been coming for sixteen weeks to partake in activities ranging from foraging to cooking to gardening, all focused around food, nature, and land. The partnership of this workshop with the Realms of Refuge project was perfect. We were curious about how the elders had experienced refuge during their program, and we looked at four “realms”: Hereland, Lostland, Storyland, and Dreamland.


As you can see, our initial brainstorm was fruitful and pretty divergent! We collected all the information we could and enjoyed the enthusiastic participation of the group, who were soon calling out ideas. I will never forget Maria, the Italian mama of the group, stating emphatically “cuesta terra e la terra di latte e miele!” (this land is the land of milk and honey!)

Soon we’d filled the page and we began looking at what was there, identifying themes and pulling out what seemed to be essential. Ronnie created a word cloud to help us see visually what ideas had been used the most. We played with how these words arrived in our bodies and what gestures might accompany these words. And finally with Ronnie’s guidance we arrived at the following statement that seemed to speak to the central value of the group:


Everyone signed off on it, feeling incredibly proud of the piece of wisdom that had been distilled from their knowledge, understandings, and perceptions. It was a real honour to witness this group of people make a strong statement about what was important to them, who they are, and what role they play in the Britannia community.

If only we would listen to our elders more often, we’d all be a lot wiser too!



The Glitter That Remains


On October 27, 2016, we got to meet with the staff at the Britannia Library. What better place to visit early on in our search for understanding than the information-keepers of the Britannia community than the library staff?

Upon our visit, we got to sit with a group of staff to get to know them. We started with a simple question of: How does this tribe identify themselves in this community?

In no time we were off and running. I started jotting down words and concepts on poster paper as the group went around the room telling us what they saw as their identity and roles in the community of Britannia.To be honest…we only got to ask one question. What we thought would be a series of questions and pulling information out of a group of people quickly turned into a frenzy of reflections, remembering, recognitions and ideations around what makes up the community, what is the intention of the community and what the community stands for. They really know a LOT about Britannia and its inner workings.

In about 15 minutes we ended up with this word cloud:


From this initial word cloud we ask the group to circle words and concepts that stand out to them and also add words or concepts that are missing. We from that take all the circled items and newly added items and create a list of words.


As a poet…these words to me are like gold…and the backbone of a narrative created collectively. To me, just by themselves condensed for recognition and acknowledgement is poetry in itself. But as you can see, we made a couple changes. We added at the top “Britannia is:” and reversed the place of “people” and “services” and added brackets around ‘centre’ as well as adding it at the end. It was then named “This Is The Glitter That Remains” by one of our participants and it really reflected that.

After an hour of intense conversation around what they love and how they identify as a tribe or group in the Britannia universe…these last words remained as a definitive poetic statement from the viewpoint of those lovely people at the Britannia Library.

This interaction would help us set the standard for our later workings in this community and helped us to see what is possible with the groups and how much love really lives in this community. We have intentions on taking this sacred data and transforming it into more art we can live in and experience.

We are VERY thankful to the Library Staff here at Britannia for their willingness to participate and openness in ideation and creation with us. We look forward to visiting later this year to touch base and see what’s developed!

What do you love about the Britannia Library?

Leave a comment below.


Box Of Light – Ronnie Dean Harris


Oh hey!

My name is Ronnie Dean Harris and I am a media artist also known as Ostwelve. I come from the Stō:lo/St’át’imc/Nlaka’pamux peoples based along the Fraser River and immediate surrounding territories. I started my dream as a hip-hop artist back when I was 12 years old and by the time I was 15, I was hosting a radio show on COOP Radio and performing at events in Vancouver. I’ve since gone on to do other things and stuff…which can be found in a bio online somewhere…but for this series of blogs…I am an artist-in-residence or artist-in-community alongside Kelty McKerracher, who also has some blogs on here you should check out as well.

When Kelty approached me with the idea for this residency, I really had no idea what to think. The world of arts residencies is a new realm to me. After some great guidance from Kelty and Ellen at Britannia Community Services, I was set to explore the world of Britannia as a visiting artist. So as we dove into the idea around Box Of Light, we had to make some observations and then adjustments. While being a part of the East Van community as well as the Britannia community for years, I really didn’t know the community of Britannia as well as I thought. My recent experiences with Britannia would come in the form of performance and workshops with youth. So upon arrival of this project and our embarking on this journey of residency, Kelty and I were quickly taken by the many communities and what I’ve been calling “tribes” within the realm of Britannia community.

We then felt that in order to make some art that reflects the values and ideas of the community, we had to listen and hear the community. We then went out and met some groups. Our first groups were highly a social warming-up of interaction. As we assessed our engagement strategy and our intentions around this engagement, we had some early meetings with some youth groups that would prove to be very observational. From then I knew we had to engage in a different way. Ask more questions, provide more space for words and sharing as well as a system for recording and displaying this data. This is where my nerd-core skills as a rapper come in handy. I LOVE ideation and crunching data as a group. While hyper and hectic…it really helps me to understand the context of the groups information and thinking process as a group. We also had a new platform to work with through the Realms Of Refuge work Kelty brought to the table, so we adjusted and worked next with the seniors group and created some lovely ideation and work.

Using a system of word clouds and mind maps, we’ve been interviewing groups and doing public inquiries into the community asking very simple questions:

  • What is this place? (Britannia)
  • What do you love about it?
  • What is your role here?
  • What do you see?

From these questions we’ve been able to get a better understanding of what drives this community and what is at the core of its leadership and intentions around being a community. From these word clouds and mind maps we are able to condense the information down to a series of words. We then shape these words into a statement or poetic device. These words are built from the collective understanding of the groups around their identity, experience and love for their roles in the Britannia community.


The interactions have been very amazing for me. Seeing people contribute with so much heart and admiration for their roles in this community has been very lovely. To be trusted with this infomration is a great honour, and we look forward to shaping it into some more artistic creations of light for this box we are looking at in 2017.

Stay tuned for more updates and presentations of some of the work we are doing with the community. It has been a real activation of storytelling and learning for us and we are excited to share this light in a reverent way.

Thank you to everyone involved in making this project possible.

What do you love about Britannia?

What is your role here?

What do you see?

What is your tribe?

Can we come talk to you?

Leave a comment below!

Realms of Refuge Workshop with Britannia Elders

Today Ronnie and I are excited to lead a workshop for the last session of a 16 week Healthy Choices program with Britannia elders.

Together we’ll reflect on how community members found refuge over the course of the summer in nature, in gardening and foraging activities, in cooking and sharing food, and in building relationships with each other and the land.

Thanks to Michelle Ziebart, Program Assistant, for inviting us!

This workshop is a community partnership with an artistic residency at the DTES Heart of the City Festival called Realms of Refuge.


A tour of Britannia

On a gorgeous sunny day in July, Ronnie and I were given a tour of the Britannia complex by Arts and Culture Programmer Ellen Dacamara. It was exciting to see everything that goes on here and what a labyrinthine hub of activity Britannia is – a city unto itself! Clearly, what I’ve known of Britannia has only been the barest glimmer of the full spectrum that exists. Having been getting to know the Downtown Eastside community in depth for the last six years, it’s a little overwhelming to imagine getting to know Britannia in the year and a half we have for our residency. This is why having people like Ellen and all of the fantastic folks who run programs, teach, learn, cook, make art, skate, and otherwise contribute to Britannia will be invaluable in showing us what this community is all about – which will in turn help us understand what role our artistic work has here.

The Napier greenway ushered us in with its canopy of trees and welcoming spots to sit and chat, eat, write, or drum:


We were shown garden spaces where youth cultivate connection to the land (and taters):


We were introduced to Michelle at the Senior’s Centre who welcomed us to lead a session sometime, and Emma and Barry at the Teen Drop-In Centre, who invited us to come to the Tuesday cooking program in the fall. We were also toured through the beloved Outreach and Education Centre, an alternative education program for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth grades 10 – 12.


We walked through windy, long-shadowed spaces that invited running and dancing…


…and we stepped over the threshold of the Carving Pavilion, a beautiful structure that smelled of pine and spoke of sacred geometry. There was already an artist collaboration at work here: carver-in-residence James Harry and mixed-media artist Lauren Brevner. Glimpsing how their work activated the space was inspiring as I imagined site-specific dance and poetry in the Pavilion.


Finally, we digested everything we’d seen and heard in the late afternoon sun, another layer deeper into the Box of Light that is Britannia…


Stay tuned for our next adventures in the fall!