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!
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!
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!
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.
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!