Long-awaited Downtown Eastside Centre for Arts becoming a reality

stateofarts-longawaitJust two years after Dalannah Gail Bowen imagined it, the Downtown Eastside Centre for the Arts is coming to life.

Bowen held an open house for the Centre April 23 at the Interurban Gallery at the corner of East Hastings and Carrall, the centre’s first home.

Singer Dalannah Gail Bowen credits her involvement in the Downtown Eastside arts community with helping her get her life back after years of homelessness and addiction. Apparently, Bowen wasn’t the only one seeing her wishes realized.

“This place is just a dream come true to me,” said Angel Rose Maiden, a woman who’s been homeless for four years and enjoys singing and other creative endeavours.

Six years ago, Bowen, a longtime jazz and blues singer and non-profit fundraiser, was homeless in the Downtown Eastside, addicted to crack and cocaine.

Two things helped her get her life back: she got the co-op housing she’d applied for before she became homeless, and she auditioned for the In the Heart of a City community play, got the part, became committed to a routine and reconnected with her creativity.

Two years ago, Bowen decided she wanted to help others do the same.

The Downtown Eastside Centre for the Arts is poised to offer six programs. Fabric Arts starts May 18. Residents of the Downtown Eastside will be invited to the Interurban outside of the hours the PHS Community Services Society operates the gallery (noon to 5 p.m., Wednesday to Saturday) to create a community quilt. Other cultural and women’s groups around town have been invited to contribute to the quilt, and make their own. The quilting will culminate with an exhibition of the works at the Interurban Gallery starting Oct. 8, with a silent and live auction to raise money for the centre Oct. 29. Other fabric arts workshops will also be offered.

On June 3, Bowen hopes to get Seniors “Move It” running. Last year, three seniors in the Downtown Eastside were dead in their rooms for a week before anyone knew they were gone, she said, and Bowen wants to reduce the isolation of those who have trouble getting around.

PHS and the Downtown Eastside Residents’ Association house most of the area’s seniors, Bowen said, so the centre will work with the physicians assigned to these buildings to get these residents out. Joe Ink dance company will limber up seniors with the low impact moves it designed for people who’ve had bypass surgery.

The hardest time of day for homeless people in the Downtown Eastside is between 5 p.m., when social services close their doors, and 11 p.m., when shelters open, so the Downtown Eastside Centre for the Arts will offer a Street Arts program where people in crisis can drop in and paint, sketch and carve in a safe and supportive setting.

Aboriginal participants can get on a list to have their art sold on their behalf at the Chinatown Night Market, an idea that was initiated by a member of the Chinatown business community.

Of course, some artists and addicts will use this income to buy drugs and alcohol, Bowen said, although she hopes they still return night after night. “Hopefully what happens is there’s more of a shift to the creating part of it, instead of the getting messed up part of it,” she said.

The Sing Sing Sing program will help anyone who’s interested in crooning, and Music of the Returning Journey will bring together professional musicians and young people who are at risk of addiction and homelessness and blend the blues with pow wow drums.

Such music programs appeal to Kenneth Trevail who attended the centre’s open house by accident. The homeless 44-year-old who’s kicked a 13-year addiction to crack visited the Interurban Gallery to see the photo exhibit, which includes an image of him.

“I didn’t piece her face together until today that [Bowen] was the woman with the gorgeous voice that I heard singing the blues last summer [in Pigeon Park]. I was standing almost right beside her and I was just itching to play my harmonica, but that would be an entertainment faux pas,” said Trevail, who hopes one day to manage and play in a blues band. “I’m going to pick her brain because I’m only starting out and she’s got experience.”

The fledgling centre is seeking donations, volunteers and a more permanent space where it could run concurrent programs.

“I’d like people, wherever they are, to get behind this concept with whatever kind of support they can provide because it will make the whole city better,” Bowen said.

Cheryl Rossi
Vancouver Courier
Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Photo by Dan Toulgoet