23 February 2010

I wouldn’t consider myself part of a community with regard to how and where I live, I suppose the closest community I have ever experienced is school, as a student at University or the arts community that I work and socialise with in Liverpool.

Even though I wouldn’t be classed as a member of the Downtown Eastside (DTES) community, I would say that I have felt part of something special since we came here and when I contribute to an event or a protest I become part of the community.

In my work community is a word that is thrown around all over the place, what I’m interested in, is how we engage people who live in Liverpool. Real engagement isn’t something that can happen quickly, it is something that should be long term with clear aims and objectives. Within Freehand (FACT’s young people’s programme) we should be constantly assessing what people really gain from our work and how they move on from it. We engage with large numbers and this is what the funders want, but is what we are doing really sustainable and valuable?

I’m learning how important it is to collaborate. I have always been quite scared of these external relationships. But, in fact, people are interested and are genuine in their collaborations. What I’ve found in DTES, Vancouver, over these last few days is that organisations here are really open and very able to create real collaborations with other partners and the participants they work with.

I met the staff and young women of Dreamseeds today and they have a great studio just outside of the DTES area. This programme is for young women aged 16 to 23, they work with staff to mould the programme and they participate in art practices that go across the board.

Dreamseeds is part of a larger young people’s project called Purple Thistle. This is a youth arts programme run by a collective of young people. Ed Pink (tenanspin Producer) and I attended their art showcase and we were really impressed. The group have their own studio, their own attitude and their own confidence. There were many different installations including a short film shown inside a tent produced by a young woman from Dreamseeds. Her film was about homelessness and young people. She had photographed them from the legs down and where they slept, shot all in black and white. She quoted a young homeless person as having said that he slept, “Wherever my feet take me...”

Another film made by a Dreamseeder was shot as if through the eyes of someone roaming the streets. It echoed themes of being lost in your own locality, not quite feeling you belong or feeling that you don’t know where to move on to. Both of these films were a part of a project called ‘Finding home’. Home is a big issue for these young people-some because of their past, some because they feel strongly about the housing problems in DTES. One of the young women told me she found the project hard to do because her housing had not always been stable and concentrating on this issue in a creative context wasn’t enjoyable or helpful for her. Maybe expressing these issues within a youth art programme isn’t always that helpful...

The event also included bands, photography and graffiti. I was impressed at how confident the young people were and how they took control of this event and led it in a way that was not forced or pretentious. I believe a huge part of this is due to the young people having their own space to create art work and being able to choose whatever theme, whatever art practice and whatever time they like. They are swamped by possibility and control.

Ed and I also visited Granville Island, which has a whole host of shops and entertainment. This is where we experienced the best Cultural Olympiad art works so far. Janet Cardiff and Georges Bures Miller have recreated a small, old fashioned cinema within the University of Art and Design. Sit on a chair and put headphones on; beneath you on a small screen plays a black and white film. You hear the people speaking in the film but what is much more unnerving is the sounds and voices you hear ‘in the auditorium’. People burst out laughing, whisper to each other, cough and I even found myself shuffling out of the way when someone asked if they can get past-there is no one there and you find yourself embarrassed, confused and a little bit scared! Your mind has a hard time understanding what is really happening and what is not...