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