I thought it was important to share my story and why the Downtown Eastside Centre for the Arts is important to me.
I am an African-Canadian/Cherokee woman, a mother, a friend, a sister, a singer, an actor, a community activist and much more from a long lifetime of experience. I have been abused, homeless, an active drug addict, been lost and disconnected, and have given up.
I now am a recording artist, playwright, published poet, community leader, and the creator and lead organizer of this initiative to establish the Downtown Eastside Centre for the Arts.
I share my story because my experience has convinced me about the power of the arts in realizing our human potential and to encourage the idea of possibilities for everyone.
In our community, the poorest postal code in Canada, we have a vast array of talent that is virtually untapped. Our philosophy, like Bill Strickland’s of Philadelphia’s world renowned Manchester Bidwell is that “People are born into this world as assets not liabilities.”
In September 2004, I had a stroke. I had been trying to find a way out of my living experience at the time and had given up on everything. I was walking, or perhaps more like dragging, through my life in a haze. I was invited by Terry Hunter and the Vancouver Moving Theatre Company, for whom I will be forever grateful, to audition for a play and was successful in getting the part.
Even though I was still an active addict, I was able to participate responsibly and it was a good experience. It was an important experience for me because it reminded me of who I was as an artist.
I had been singing for forty years and as I sank deeper into my addiction, there was less and less creativity. The fact that I was participating in something that took me back to those feelings and touched that part of my being was invaluable.
Shortly after that experience, my desire to change was all I could think about and I turned to the only thing I knew which was prayer. I had a stroke, a blessing, and have been moving forward ever since.
I spent the next few years volunteering, getting physically healthy, and participating in various events. I began singing again. I had felt because of my addiction that I didn’t have the right to get up on a stage in my condition.
I wrote a play called “The Returning Journey” that tells my story and presented it, with gratitude to Donna Spencer, at the Firehall Theatre. I recorded an internationally recognized and award-winning first blues album at 62 years of age.
I present this information as an example of what is possible when we invest in our well-being as a person.
The Downtown Eastside has a wealth of artistic talent. We have former professional painters, actors, singers and other disciplines, some of whom encountered a crisis that overwhelmed them….and now they are here.
We also have individuals who we know have the potential through experiencing a positive artistic experience to re-connect with themselves as human beings.
As I observed more I realized that my art had served me by reconnecting me to who I really am. I also realized that art as a tool for healing is a powerful tool to affect change.
The focus of the Downtown Eastside Centre for the Arts is to create an alternative for people with a desire to change and to excite the desire to change by providing structured and unstructured programming and opportunities for artistic experiences and creative expression in a variety of disciplines.
There will always be people in crisis and the social service agencies do an amazing job with the workload and what they have to work with. We feel, however, it is time to explore other avenues and possibilities that encourage and develop a strong sense of self in relation to community. Three and four generations of people in food bank line-ups and at service agencies means the way we are doing things is not working.
We have begun with the Fabric Arts program, the Move It program for seniors, and exhibitions which represent the diverse community of the Downtown Eastside, and we are inviting collaborations and creating partnerships within and outside our immediate community to create a growing platform of structured and unstructured opportunities.
We are extremely grateful for the people who have come forward to contribute as sponsors, with in-kind and financial donations, and with many kind words and ideas as we create and grow.
The Downtown Eastside Centre for the Arts is my vision of an enterprise which becomes our vision, a place that creates opportunities for everyone through artistic endeavors, that brings together the many different communities that make Vancouver the city it is, and to create a healthier more humane community for everyone.
We invite you to join us in making the possibilities for the Downtown Eastside Centre for the Arts possible for our community.
Dalannah Gail Bowen
Downtown Eastside Centre for the Arts