Every Thursday starting at around 10:30, the Campbell River Art Gallery opens its doors to people in the unhoused community to provide a space for them to sit, hang out and make some stunning artwork.
“It’s a place to be creative,” said Sara Lopez Assu, executive director of the gallery.
“This is a spin off of Walk With Me,” she said, referring to the successful program that helps people understand the impact of the toxic drug crisis in Campbell River. “As we participated in Walk With Me, we quickly realized the impact that it was having on folks, not just the actual walks and the story telling part, but the fact that members of our unhoused community had a place to go that was consistent and where they felt empowered, and valued. We listened to some of the cultural leaders that were part of walk with me and they clearly asked us to keep something going.”
Now people can come inside and work on creative art pieces. On March 10, for example, participants Nick Holland and Chuck Jules were the first in the door. They were both working on linocut, Holland was busy carving a lion head that would eventually be made into a stamp to create things like tote bags, t shirts and greeting cards. Jules was prepping his linocut, a design of a whale, to be fed into the printing machine.
“For me there’s a big sense of community and belonging. It’s an opportunity for everyone to demonstrate their own creative abilities,” Holland said. “I just really think it’s a good opportunity to… participate in something my whole life has revolved around, which is art.”
Lopez Assu said that though they have limited funding, it was important for the gallery to open its doors and offer folks a basic opportunity. They were able to hire a peer staff member, Agnes Thomas, who helps reach out to folks in the community who could benefit from the space.
“We aren’t doing it for fun anymore, we’re doing it for survival. We’re doing it to survive. When you take the time out to individualize yourself, you find your individuality. It takes us away from the element of the daily routine,” Thomas said as she wound thread to make a dream catcher. “It gives a sense of individuality, and at the same time it helps me to understand who my family is… when I do this, it feels really good.”
One of the goals of the program is to get some of the artwork listed for sale on the Gallery’s website and in the gift shop. That way, proceeds from the artwork can be put back into the program to help purchase more art supplies, and help the artists themselves.
“We were able to get some t shirts and some bags… and they’ll be screenprinting,” said Lopez Assu. “They made designs to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women, to honour Every Child Matters. They’ll be printing those and selling them in our gift shop.”
As the morning wore on, more and more people started coming into the gallery. Coffee was poured, some snacks handed out, but mostly people were drawn to the art supplies. People were smiling, chatting with friends and creating some truly wonderful works of art.
“I love it,” Thomas said. “I love it.”