DTES

14 January 2019 – DTES. I had to see the initialism a few times before it quietly spoke its identity into my mind.

Downtown East Side.

Vancouver’s downtown east side, where it is all on display — all the contrasts that remind us what a messy business it is, being human. All those juxtapositions that chill us, warm us, frighten us, shock us, delight us, inspire us, touch our hearts. All the dimensions.

A church, with the Madonna and Child, the Stations of the Cross … and a Fentanyl poster. We are asked to remember the City’s street nurses in our prayers, along with all the other first responders.

Later, this mild late morning, I walk south on Gore Street, an historic part of town now largely identified as part of Chinatown, but resonating with layers of Japanese, Afro-Canadian and indigenous history as well.

Every now and then, the wail of an paramedic ambulance screaming by.

Life on the sidewalks, shop after shop, service after service. A barber shop, for example …

with sidewalk displays stretching south beyond it. And each sidewalk display opening into an enclosed shop as well.

The lure of shop names …

and of product samples. Ginseng! All the way from Wisconsin.

Martial arts studios …

and alley art …

sometimes with a disposal bin or two, for punctuation.

Then more art-in-the-alley — but not like the others.

This is Designer Alley Art. The demographics must be changing.

And indeed they are, indeed they do, as I turn the corner westward onto Union St.

People and pooches relaxing in the warmth, drinking their specialty coffees outdoors as they tilt their faces to the sun.

Right across the street, though, a reminder of Vancouver’s housing crisis. One of the City’s temporary modular housing projects is nearing completion.

Budget approval for 600 units in 2017; a budget request for another 600 in late 2018. Each unit to provide its occupants with health & social services, two meals a day, life skills training, and ways to connect with community organizations.

Back here on the north side of the street, a tidy little plaque that fits its gentrified surroundings, announcing as it does that Semi-Public will soon mount another commissioned public art installation in this fenced-off space.

But the website, like the housing units opposite, reminds us of other realities, weaving up through history into this present moment, tying each with the other.

Semi-Public’s programming is informed by the contested spatial politics of its location on traditional ancestral and Unceded Territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, in the neighbourhood of Chinatown, adjacent to what was the largest civic concentration of African-Canadians families and businesses before their displacement for a major automobile corridor in the 1970s, and within one of the most speculative and expensive real estate markets in the world.

I look down the line-up of shops and services, here on the fortunate side of the street. (I am not mocking or reviling this world or its inhabitants; I am well aware I am one of them.)

Just beyond the bike shop, the white sign wiped blank by sunshine invites us to come in for this café’s speciality: crème brûlée.

I almost veer in, but don’t. I’m caught instead by the noodle bowls on offer right next door, in Harvest Community Foods. They not only serve good, local food right on the spot, they sell prepared bags of “urban agricultural produce” each week.

I slurp up my bowl-of-the-day (mushroom/miso broth, ramen, tofu, mixed mushrooms & greens, wakame) and shamelessly eavesdrop on the conversation one table over. They first compare favourite ginger teas, but move quickly on to the relative merits of Rocky Road vs. Hazelnut-Espresso ice cream. I make a mental note to go hunt down the latter.

Full, happy tummy. On I go, on south out of Chinatown, back into Mount Pleasant, and — by chance wandering — past another example of community food production.

A triangular lot, nicked into the streetscape. The air is spicy with evergreen mulch — maybe they’ve just been chipping some Christmas trees? Signs propped here & there tell you what is being grown. Plot “Y” for example, lists cucumber, chard, purslane, zucchini & eggplant.

I take a picture of the intersection signs, a lazy way to document location — and later discover it’s another Vancouver Moment, all on its own.

How handy, that big command to STOP! Back in Toronto, I’d seen the signs highjacked to urge us to stop assorted politicians (Rob Ford and Stephen Harper being then high on the list). But this is Vancouver, and a different priority.

Another Message, Perhaps

My thanks to my friend Linda, who points out that the lime-green hair in my previous post might not be an anti-boredom message after all. It might be an extension of the movement to wear different colour ribbons as support for people with various forms of cancer — in this case, lymphoma.

 

 

 

 

 

The Tease. Transformed

9 September 2016 – And how does one transform an idea into reality? A concept into 800 square feet of community/volunteer-driven, LCBO parking lot mural?

I’m so glad you asked.

On 28 August, I showed you the concept as a tease:

LCBO Mural design

The project began with these two people, who have guided it to the reality that will be unveiled, with great hoop-la, during tomorrow’s Cabbagetown Festival celebrations.

Michael Cavanaugh & Poonam Sharma

Meet Michael Cavanaugh, the retired Lakehead University fine arts professor who is the core driving force behind the Bell Box Mural Program. And meet Poonam Sharma, a local artist who helps others discover their talents while developing her own.

This project came to them. The Cabbagetown BIA (Business Improvement Association) commissioned a mural to honour the 40th anniversary of the Cabbagetown Festival; the Parliament Street LCBO outlet offered a wall; Michael & Poonam posted 4 possible mural designs online for a community vote; and then drummed up volunteer help to turn the winner, with its Victorian heritage theme, into reality.

My AGO volunteer colleague, Chloe, and I turn up on one of the early days, to help with the base coat. Chloe takes the selfie. (Hmm, what’s the plural of ‘selfie’?)

Penny with Chloe (R)

We’re both resplendent in the safety vests worn by all helpers — the more visible we are to drivers in the narrow parking lot, the better. I am also, if I may say so, resplendent in my vintage Cabbagetown Festival T-shirt, the work of graphic artist & musician San Murata.

Michael & Poonam have already projected the design onto the wall; now we all take basic instruction and start laying on the paint. “Don’t worry about pretty edges!” cries Michael. “Just stay within the lines as best you can and, above all, cover the wall!” He’s right, there is a whole lot of white space up there, waiting to be transformed.

We slap on the paint.

base-coat volunteers, Chloe at front

When Chloe & I leave, that Friday evening, you can already see the mural taking shape.

Sept. 2 stage of mural

I come back on Sunday, just as they are setting up again, to admire progress & see what happens next. Progress, indeed.

Sunday 4 Sept, as they start

“The base coat is pretty well in place,” says Poonam. “Now for the detailing, and the shading.”

First step: tape off the wall-front work area. It cuts motorist access in half, but fortunately everyone is too pleased (or simply bemused) to argue.

Poonam tapes off the work area

They settle in for an afternoon of second-stage work. A dozen or so volunteers have helped power that base coat into place, but detailing & shading requires a steadier hand. Someone — to be blunt about it — with training & skill.

Michael, for one …

Michael Cavanaugh, detailling the mural

and Poonam, for another.

Poonam shading the borders

Friends, supporters and the just plain curious all stop for a look and a natter. Poonam is brilliant at welcoming and engaging everybody, while somehow getting her work done as well.

Poonam with admirers...

A long day, deliberately so.

They wait for nightfall so they can project the mural’s banner text onto the wall. It involves a laptop with the text image …

text for the mural

and a projector on top of the ladder, to throw that image upon the wall.

laptop (lower right) connected to projector, to throw the image on the wall

Poonam is up on the scaffolding, carefully tracing the projected lettering into place.

Poonam traces text onto the wall

 

A couple of days later, I go by again.

almost, almost final

There it is!

Tomorrow, the grand unveiling. I’ll be there, you betcha.

Mutant Fish, Identified

You remember “mutant fish,” in my post Down Down the Don? Sure you do.

detail, fish mural along the Lower Don Trail

I whined at the time that I couldn’t find any artist ID. Thanks to a posted comment by filc21, I can now tell you that the fish is the work of two artists, jarus and kwest.

How nice to know, and give credit where credit is due.

 

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

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