Article, Social Justice, Community, Arts & Culture, Urban Issues

Mentoring Through Community in the 19th Annual Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival

December 05, 2022

The 19th Annual Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival came to a resounding close after twelve days of events honouring the community organizations, artists, and ancestors of the Downtown Eastside who work together to celebrate the neighbourhood in profound and engaging ways.

This year’s festival theme—“Community Is Our Mentor”—guided the music, stories, poetry, theatre, ceremonies, films, dance, readings, workshops, exhibits, and discussions of the festival, placing a focus on listening and learning from the lived wisdom and cultural practices of Downtown Eastside community. SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement was honoured to support four events at the  Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival, featuring activists, performance artists, and a comic journalist, telling their stories and illuminating directions for positive change. 

Take a look below for descriptions and video recordings from these four events, as well as a playlist we curated from previous Below the Radar podcast episodes that highlight key community organizations and folks from the Downtown Eastside.

Joe Sacco: Paying the Land

The Northwest Territories are home to valuable resources like oil, gas, and diamonds. With mining comes jobs and investment, but also roads, pipelines, and toxic waste, scarring the landscape and deforming the ways of life for Dene communities. Paying the Land is a masterful work of comic journalism, authored and illustrated by Joe Sacco, that explores these conflicts while lending an ear to Dene peoples, elders, and activists.

In a thoughtful discussion on October 28th, Joe Sacco was joined by Dene scholar Glen Coulthard. They discussed Sacco’s inspiration for Paying the Land, what he learned and what he was surprised by when he spoke to Dene community members, and how the theme of violence wove its way through the sweeping stories of loss, resistance, and culture. This conversation later opened to the audience, who asked questions inquiring about Sacco’s drawing process, the meaning behind his particular ways of illustrating, and his approach to documenting stories in unfamiliar places. 

It’s clear from the evening’s conversation that Sacco’s Paying the Land stands as an diligent example of conscientious storytelling; sharing the resistance and survival of Dene peoples and communities within a continued colonial context of attempted spatial and cultural dispossession. 

Inside/Out: A Prison Memoir with Patrick Keating

Inside/Out: A Prison Memoir is Patrick Keating’s real-life story of years spent in and out of Canada’s penitentiary system.  It’s a story about a man’s search for community: the community of the street, the community of prison, and of the theatre. After the screening of Patrick’s filmed performance, the floor opened up to the audience in an introspective Q&A that explored Patrick’s journey through the Canadian correctional system and making the film. Patrick was also joined by panellists Pam Young and Karen Davidson – who shared their experiences and views on the lack of changes within the justice system. As Patrick talked about stagnant beliefs often revolving around the prison system, Karen shared the lack of attention her Guthrie House community program has faced despite being a success over the years. 

The Q&A encompassed a discussion of mutual agreement between the audience and the guest speakers regarding prevailing flaws within our current prison and “justice” systems. This led to the closing conversation between Patrick, the other panellists, and the audience, to encompass suggestions of changes that could be made to the current system, and ideas of ways to get  involved in implementing these changes – so people's relationship with the “justice” system can move around away from being “in and out.” 

The Q&A covered the general public’s views on the prison system, ideas on how to shift perspectives, and steps that need to be taken to shift relationships with the “justice” system so they move away from being so “in and out.”

Karen Jamieson & The Carnegie Dance Troupe

On Sunday November 6th, Karen Jamieson & The Carnegie Dance Troupe presented a studio showing of their latest in-progress work. Since 2006, the Carnegie Dance Troupe has been guided by values of absolute inclusivity. Performances are created through processes of collaboration, seeking to connect the dances to the body, to the breath, to the energy of the earth, to each other, and to our diverse communities. The piece truly showcased this, with the audience bearing witness to beautiful moments of connection among the fellow dancers, as well as between the dancers and both the audience and musicians. 

The Carnegie Dance Troupe embodies community engagement through dance. The work unfolded gently through storytelling and song, guided by the multicultural and intergenerational group. The goal of Karen Jamieson Dance’s work is not only to collaborate with residents of the Downtown Eastside community, but to allow all dancers, regardless of formal training, to explore the movement of their ‘inner dancer’ as a means of coming into connection with the internal world. It was clear from the performance that this work has meaningful and lasting effects. 

Famous Last Words with Death Rides a Unicorn

Death Rides a Unicorn Events’ Famous Last Words was a literary and spoken word performance, where contestants competed to win the approval of Sara Bynoe, their Master of Ceremonies, alongside her silent unicorn sidekick (Hillary Angus) – who won the audience over with their dancing and visual humour. A hilarious mix of improv and poetry, this comedic event brought laughter to the audience with poems about the 1922 silent German Expressionist horror film Nosferatu, why “I” would be the last to die in a Friday the 13th-style movie, as well as poems accompanied by interpretive dances from our favourite unicorn sidekick. This comedic literary event was inspired by the pandemic years, in which everyone has experienced varying forms of loss and sadness. To counter the bleakness, the organisers felt a need to share humour and joy in a fun format. Comedic performers included Dina Del Bucchia, RC Weslowski, Erin Kirsh, and Bendan McLeod.

This event was organized in collaboration with Death Rides a Unicorn, The League of Canadian Poets, Hummingbird Communications and Design, and SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement.

A Heart of the City Playlist

To emulate the a purpose of the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival—to invigorate our deep connections to the neighbourhood, draw out prevailing urban issues, and appreciate the area’s array cultural and arts-based underpinnings—our office has created a special Below the Radar playlist that highlights episodes with key community organisations and figures from the Downtown Eastside. The playlist includes voices from Megaphone Magazine, Aboriginal Life in Vancouver Enhancement Society, the Binners’ Project, as well as community advocates Jackie Wong and Libby Davies, and substance use activists Eris Nyx, Micheal Vonn, and Ann Livingston.

View the whole playlist here.

Thank you to everyone who partnered with us for this year’s Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival, and to all who attended these thought provoking community events.

For more on the latest events from our office, check out the events page on our website. Keep your eye out for the lineup for next year’s lineup of the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival here.

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