The women gathered around the table are busy at work, threading needles, stitching fabric and sewing patterns. It’s Monday afternoon and they’ve congregated at the Interurban Gallery with one common purpose: to quilt.
The participants are here as part of the Downtown Eastside Centre for the Arts’ Community Quilt Project. As part of the Centre’s Fabric Arts Program, the project aims to give the Downtown Eastside community the opportunity to create together—whether through quilt-making or other fabric arts.
“Our goals,” says Lisa Fox Valdes, administrative coordinator for the Centre, “are to bring together diverse groups and individuals in the neighbourhood, to provide opportunities to develop their creative expression and to encourage and build connections and relationships within the community.”
Despite the busy activity the women are engaged in, each hard at work on her own quilt panel, there is a spirit of sincere generosity as they tell stories, offer supportive advice and share techniques with one another.
“People have said how they love the opportunity to just sit with others working on a common goal, creating together, sharing stories—sometimes poetry, creating new friendships, reconnecting old friendships,” says Valdes. “People also feel a sense of pride in creating their pieces and know that the end will be something they are part of.”
The project, which began in May, definitely has a communal feel. Anyone interested is invited to participate in the twice-weekly workshops, the Interurban Gallery has supplied the space for the would-be quilters to gather, and materials have been donated. It all culminates in an exhibition and sale this coming October at the gallery, with proceeds going back into the non-profit Centre for the Arts and other participating non-profit organizations.
“Currently there are about 30 participants,” says Valdes. “People drop in to create in each workshop and we are still doing outreach to invite more groups to participate so this number changes weekly.”
The Fabric Arts Program and the Community Quilt Project are part of the Downtown Eastside Centre for the Arts mission to contribute to improving the lives of members of the community by providing opportunities for personal creative development and for the “creative expression and experience of our community.”
“Our intention is to offer accessible arts programming to members of the Downtown Eastside Community who live below the poverty line and who wish to explore and experience various art forms,” says Creative Director Dalannah Gail Bowen.
Located at the Interurban Gallery and sponsored by the Portland Hotel Society, the Centre for the Arts first began its programming in May 2009. Bowen hopes to see the organization eventually develop “long-term programming in dance, theatre, music and visual arts with a strong aboriginal component”.
With many community projects on the way, the Community Quilt Project is a perfect symbol of DE Centre for the Arts mission: sewing various parts together to create a whole.
Story and photo by Kevin Hollett
July 15, 2009