Category Archives: social justice

let’s get together

A few weeks ago, I mentioned I would be sharing projects that focus on community health, healing, and art. I have found a few — today, let’s visit Philadelphia, Pennsylvania!

One summer, I spent a few weeks in the city of Philadelphia. It was just after high school and I wanted to do something! help someone! expand my consciousness! make a difference!

So, I looked through a booklet (yup, not a website) filled with all kinds of projects and signed up for one that promised an ‘eco-friendly, inner-city experience with a group of young folks from around the world.’ And so it was! We lived together in a big ol’ house and cooked communal dinners. Never sure what we would be doing each day, we ended up in abandoned crack house (cleaning was the aim but it was a lost cause), worked in a community garden, and painted nationalistic murals on the rooftop of the house we stayed at (I think mine, in true Canadian pride, included pot leaves and peace signs). One day we went to the organizer’s house and cleaned up his overgrown library! It didn’t seem well-organized – there were times when we seemed to simply be serving the organizer’s personal and political persuasions. And sometimes, I wondered what I was really doing there – we all did.

One day we ended up in neighbourhood where the store fronts were big garage doors with bullet holes spattered across them. My eyes opened wide. Our job was to throw concrete at a mud and wood perimeter of a hole for a basement – were we building walls? I don’t know. The… space … was to become a women’s shelter – I don’t know if it ever did.

But I do know that I met a man at that site. His name escapes me. I remember his slight outline sitting on top of a ladder in the bright sun, big work boots, black jeans, and his constant companions – a walkman and the music of Phil Collins – music he credited with saving him from a life of heroin addiction and homelessness. He springs to mind when my heart is captured with joy, belonging, and a sense of home as the right note, the right phrase, the right blend of instruments fills my body with sound. I am grateful to him for sharing his path of healing with me – it helps me to recognize and open to my own unique path of healing. Because, really aren’t we are all just looking for, and finding, those sweet spots that ignite our soul? And, really, only you can know when you find yours.

What were the long-term results of our work? Did I make a difference? Did I help someone? Are those the questions to ask to get at what happened in that space?

I don’t know. We ‘parachuted’ in, didn’t complete any project, and didn’t spend much time talking with local community folks. It was loose, messy, unstructured. Subtle and gentle. A time to explore my own identity, a new community, and sit in a place of a belonging/not belonging. I took a step outside of my everyday experience and expanded – heart, soul and mind. Small steps into big questions.

So, I have a soft spot for Philadelphia and when I found the project below, I was pretty excited to share it with you. If I was going to return to Philly now, I would like to lend my skills and heart to this project:

The Porch Light Project
A mural arts project
organized by Mural Arts Program & the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual DisAbility Services.

“A three-year initiative that situates art and human connection at the heart of recovery and healing in three North Philadelphia neighborhoods”

How does it work? Three areas of Philadelphia are participating in the project. The site is prepped and funding is attained. Then the mural artists get together with community members and people within the partnering community organizations to talk, make art, write, and share community and individual priorities, issues, and aesthetic sensibilities. The design process is specific to the mural artist – so each project is quite different. And of course, the painting and installation is done by everyone who wants to participate! When the painting is done, there is a celebration.

The Color of Your Voice – drawn from poetry created by community members, the mural focuses on themes of resilience, history, strengths and challenges.

Our Vision, Our Testament – this mural was drawn from words, lists, and collages about the value of community and what it takes to make a community to thrive.

To see more projects, click here.

And it doesn’t stop with murals! What is the value of participating in such a project? For individuals? for organizations? for communities? Long-term research/evaluation is being completed by The Yale School of Medicine and includes in-depth interviews (before and after), focus groups, and examination of data from different municipal departments about things like ” behavioral health services, neighborhood commercial activity, and crime over time” (

What a neat project. I wonder what stories the participants will tell about their involvement in the project. How will these stories be shared? Will we learn about the messy, difficult parts as well as the joyful, smooth parts of the projects? I will follow up in a while and post if I find anything interesting!

In the meantime, I leave with you some images of graffiti and murals that I have collected in my travels:

feel (san francisco) happy endings (regina) robot (san francisco)wrestlers (toronto)monster (regina)lo-cost meat (san francisco)the wall (powell river) safer (san francisco)


P.S. Also in Philadelphia, I convinced my friend that we could make it to the Veruca Salt concert across town without any money for a way home. With the generosity of a stranger who gave us the money for a cab, we did make it safe and sound. A big public thank you to this man — I have never forgotten your kindness and have paid it forward again and again.

grow garden grow

Everything is green and everywhere is green!  Things are growing and changing  … the trees are wide with love, the birds are finding worms all over the place, and the air is warm.  And the gardens are exploding!

For the first time in three years, I have not started a garden – and I miss it!  My first garden was with my dear friend in a yard where we battled with deer and grew kale, carrots, lettuce and tried to grow corn – with not much success. Growing in community can be a really exciting, challenging, and expanding type of experience.

Community gardens are all over the place – there was one in my old Victoria neighbourhood and although I wasn’t really part of it, I really appreciated the people who made it happen!

Growing things is very creative!  How will you arrange your growing space?  What types of plants will you grow? Why? What does it feel like to grow things?  I have always found weeding a very rewarding experience and oh-so-tangible!

And how are people connecting gardens, art, and social justice?  Here are just two projects to check out:

Name: EcoArtLab – Ella Cooper
Location: Vancouver, BC
What’s happening:Multidisciplinary artist and educator, Ella Cooper has recently gained four of the City of Vancouver’s Green Street plots and would like to turn them into a veritable eco-arts gallery and space for community engagement. Collaborating with the Community Arts Council’s Eco Arts Salon, gardeners, guerilla knitters, creative minds, poets and interested members of the community we will be working to create a happy blend of community gardening and eco arts projects that creates an interactive green space that will evolve as the plants grow.”  EcoArtsLab

Name: LoveArtLab –  Annie Sprinkles and Elizabeth Stephens
Location: California
What’s happening: A manifesto, an EcoSex symposium this very weekend, the chakras, love art lab and ecosexuals!  Who knew?  I want to go to California right now! Here is the first point from the manifesto: “(i) WE ARE THE ECOSEXUALS. The Earth is our lover. We are madly, passionately, and fiercely in love, and we are grateful for this relationship each and every day. In order to create a more mutual and sustainable relationship with the Earth, we collaborate with nature. We treat the Earth with kindness, respect and affection.”

There are many other projects, activities, websites, and neat ideas floating around … but I think that is it for me for now!

Peace out,

action, alternatives and responsibility

Situations of sexualized violence and bullying have been forefront in the news lately (always).  It weighs heavy on my heart and mind.

In the face of this violence, how can we imagine and ensure non-oppressive realities/alternatives?

Forum theatre is one way.  Forum theatre comes from Theatre of the Oppressed – an interactive, participatory form of action, developed in the 1970’s  by Augusto Boal.

Actors, audience members, and facilitators move their way through a crisis situation.  The audience watches the play. The second time, they get to interject.  Become one of the characters.  Make different choices. Alter the outcome. But remain in character.

It is an opportunity to feel the issue with your body and mind.  To play out different possibilities in a safe place.  To understand that we all have choices.  To imagine different choices.  To try them out.  To be ready for a real life situation.  To be empowered.

This fall, a company called Sheatre, will be touring Saskatchewan with a forum theatre play “Far From the Heart” about sexual violence and dating violence.  I got to see a screening as part of International Women’s Day celebrations in Regina.  It was powerful.

And what was most challenging, for me, was the discussion afterwards where people expressed ideas that sometimes sexual assault is the woman’s fault.  And if the woman wasn’t wearing that, or hadn’t said that, all this could be prevented.

That discussion was echoed in a recent news article that a friend posted- about a woman who was walking in the evening, got separated from her friends, pulled into a car, and sexually assaulted by a group of men.  A group of men.  In Victoria.  Dropped off a few hours later in a parking lot.  And the police said that a woman should take responsibility for her own safety.  Her own safety.

We remind women to take steps to be responsible for their personal safety,” he said. Police recommend that women: Travel in groups and stick to well-lit areas. Carry a cellphone.  Not accept drinks from people and not leave drinks unattended.  If drinking alcohol, plan a safe ride home by cab or with people you know. If using public transit, travel with friends.

As I followed the discussion (on facebook and in the paper), many agreed the article, and the police, failed to put the blame where it belonged.  And that it failed to send a strong message to those in our community who are responsible for such crimes.  

Why is that missing from the story?  Missing from our discussions about assault?  Why isn’t that front and centre? Why these ‘tips’ that continue to sanction the status quo?

It is heartbreaking on many levels.  We continue to blame women for being in the wrong spot, at the wrong time.  And then we continue to avoid direct confrontation\conversation with the men who are responsible for this trauma.

To be fair, there is a second article that incorporates some comments from the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre but really the first story should address the real issues – not just after a public outcry.

As a young teenager, I used to ride my bike through the woods in the dark, coming home.  I would be so scared.  And I would do it anyway because – damn it – I have a right to take the shortcut home! And I would imagine all kinds of scenarios in my mind in which, if attacked, I would calmly convince the person not to hurt me. Or I would turn into Wonder Woman.  Or the person would suddenly start crying and apologizing and be on the side of good forever.  Well, Wonder Woman was a stretch but .. sometimes I was high.  And I wanted to believe I was safe and in control.

We need to imagine real alternatives together.  Like the ones we can practice in forum theatre activities.   And then we can practice them in our own lives.  To practice for life when it hits you in the face with a situation like, “Let’s pick that girl up” and you can say, “No, let’s not”.

And then, we can see news stories that  say something like:  “We urge men to hold eachother accountable and prevent sexual assault.  We recommend that men:  Say no to sexual assault.  If you are in a group, and someone suggests sexual assualt, say no and then use your cell phone to call the police. If you feel like hurting someone, stay home and call a crisis line.  Get the help you need.  You can change for the better.  All of us are responsible for creating a safe place.”

We are all responsible. 

This is a good interview between Democracy Now! and Augusto Boal – Boal explains the origins of forum theatre and his own journey of learning about oppression/non-oppression.

family time

i am so inspired  ..  i want to learn more so i can be part of amazing programs like this!

i love that this project incorporates leadership, all kinds of families, so many different types of art making, and culminates in a public exhibit!

you can find more information about this program here

hope you are inspired to be creative with your loved ones today


World Community Arts Day! Today!

Don’t forget — today is World Community Arts Day – Art as a Catalyst for Caring and Sharing.

Make some art!  Share it with your friends, family, and community!  Send some love out to the universe and eachother.

Today, I stood outside with a group of awesome and committed individuals concerned about social justice and homelessness in Saskatchewan and specifically Regina.

1% Home Sweet Home,  a collaborative effort by individuals and over seven organizations, was created to raise awareness about the low vacancy rate in Regina (1%)  and the cost of housing in relation to our wages.  It was freezing!!  And, in a way, the weather kicked it up a notch to really prove the point – everyone needs a warm, dry safe place to live – don’t they?

Photo credit:  Prairie Dog Mag

The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Regina is $802.  If you are on social assistance, that is 93% of your cheque!  If you work at a minimum wage job, 73% of your income will go towards that $802 apartment and food.

Creator and photo credit: Gerry Ruecker

As a teenager,  I was both kicked out of and voluntarily left my parent’s house (a few times).  I always had a place to stay and have always been grateful to those people who let me stay with them.  I never thought of myself as homeless but I guess that couchsurfing is a form of homelessness.  My experience has given me an understanding of how it can happen and compassion for those who are experiencing it right now. But do you have to experience it or know someone who has to have compassion?

There are so many stories.  As part of the installation, there were also videos playing that Dr. Marc Spooner recorded as part of his study on homelessness in Regina.  He spoke with the experts – those who are homeless.

Today, someone stopped and asked me .. are the homeless just people who don’t work?   It wasn’t really a question.  Even though I have personal experience and a heart for the issue, it is really so complex, I wasn’t really sure what to say.  I tried to say a few things but I don’t feel I said the things that will bring this man to a deeper understanding.  Maybe the media coverage will help to bring the message across – CBC, Prairie Dog, Leader Post, radio stations like MBC all came out to interview and take pictures.

I don’t know.  I still have a lot to learn – so do we all.

a different view

So these blogs talk about how social justice and art  in schools- in the US – has become simply a tool for the Obama administration to push its own political agenda …. and to push the concept of ‘social justice’ and violent revolution …  what do you think about that?

“A telling sign of the nature of this movement is the logo adopted by the NAEA for its 2010 convention, whose theme is “Art Education and Social Justice.” It is the raised-clenched-fist symbol commonly associated with radical, even violent, political activism. Nor should one be much comforted by the fact that this fist is holding a pair of paint brushes.”

National Art Education Association and “Social Justice” Propaganda

More inculcation and brain drain — stealing our nation’s youthful creativity to pound guilt, divisiveness, victimhood and racism into the cultural sewer.   A Blog Responder says :  “How much you want to bet that they teach the students to put graffiti around? After all, it’s “art”, and it can be used to harass and intimidate society into having “social justice” — in other words, the Obama / ACORN model.”

And here is another viewpoint ….

“Through art, we can challenge many of our society’s deepest-seated assumptions, such as the boundaries between self and other, “artist” and “non-artist,” present and past, male and female, young and old, “normal” and “abnormal.”

The community artist builds upon the power of artistic creation and expression to spark new ideas and elicit new actions, both from people who participate in the creative process and those who witness its results.

Art can catalyze critical thinking, inspire individuals to work together, create visions, heal. This energy, in turn, helps catalyze, inspire and heal the community artist who facilities its development.”

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