On Thursday, June 23, the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC) hosted the launch of Hunger and Wholeness: a Making Room and PARC collaboration. The event showcased portraits and light boxes that have been created by PARC members over the past year. Visiting artist Savannah Walling followed the launch with a presentation about her community arts work in Vancouver’s downtown eastside.
As a drop-in community centre for the Parkdale community, PARC promotes safety and dignity in a neighbourhood that witnesses constant struggle and adversity. Although recent gentrification has slightly shifted the area, in both resident demographic and reputation, Parkdale remains home to many psychiatric survivors and marginalized populations. For over thirty years, PARC has advocated for the rights of these people, and spread awareness about the need for affordable housing in the area.
Hunger and Wholeness is a collaboration between PARC and Making Room Community Arts, led by artistic director Michael Burtt. A multi-disciplinary project that combines writing, photography, sculpture and mixed media, Hunger and Wholeness explores the opposition of scarcity and abundance. The project began in September of 2010, when PARC recruited its members to create installations and light boxes for the basement of their centre.
The result is Sparks that Fly: a name that references both the medium and the alchemy of collaborative art-making. Lead artist Joshua Barndt designed and facilitated the series, which incorporates quotes from PARC members relating to appetite and satiation. Lining the halls towards the Sorauren Food Bank, the artwork brings thematically fitting imagery to a basement that was once bleak and unadorned.
Portraits of Silence is the second part of Hunger and Wholeness, in which Toronto-based photographer Patrick Struys captured a cross-section of PARC members while meditating. The intention of the project, says Michael Burtt, is to provide visual reminders of peace and reflection in an area that can be overwhelmed by chaos and noise. The portraits have been blown up and mounted throughout the neighbourhood, on everything from storefronts to local rooftops.
As a compliment to the launch, visiting artist Savannah Walling spoke about her community-engaged art projects in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Savannah has been producing collaborative theatre performances for almost thirty years, currently serving as the artistic director of Vancouver Moving Theatre. She also runs the annual Heart of the City festival, which is now entering its eighth year of celebrating arts, social action, and cultural diversity in the downtown eastside.
“It’s amazing to see the transformative effect that the festival has had on the neighbourhood,” Savannah shares. Not only does the festival bring the community together, but it teaches audiences about the area’s cultural depth and history. The media is starting to take notice. “In the past, the media has focused only on the problems that exist in the area, while ignoring what’s being done to fix them. The media is finally starting to acknowledge the solutions that are being produced, and everything in the area that deserves being celebrated.”
Although Parkdale and the downtown eastside are distinct communities that require different strategies, Savannah’s success is an encouraging example of how community arts can reshape a neighbourhood. She says that the most important thing she has learned is that “every single person has something of value to share. We just need to learn to listen.”
Amy Goudge is the Summer 2011 Membership Intern at the Neighbourhood Arts Network.