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!

Britannia’s Box of Light

We see the collective consciousness of the community to be like a box of light. Inside this box are many ideas, understandings, wisdom, stories, and knowledge that light the community from within. Sometimes this box gets messy or we forget what is inside, and we need to open it up. This collaboration between poet/multi-media artist Ronnie Harris and Expressive Arts Therapist/community artist Kelty McKerracher will open the community box of light through multiple ideation processes with diverse community groups. Through the creation of word clouds and mind maps, we seek to understand, recognize, and acknowledge what the Britannia community holds close to their hearts. With this sacred light data we will engage a core group of youth to create multi-disciplinary performance and media works that explore and deepen our collective understanding of the Britannia community’s gifts. The box of light will shine during a final celebration in Britannia’s Carving Pavilion in summer 2017. This collaborative artistic inquiry is a practice of mindful relationship, of seeing beauty in each other, and activating conversations about what matters most to us.


What matters most to you in your community? Leave a comment below. Thanks!


Kelty & Ronnie