Art exhibition brings formerly homeless closer to public

Personal works created by Pacifica tenants are available to view during an opening exhibition at Island Blue Art Store.

Pacifica Housing tenant Evan James with one of his paintings on display at the Island Blue Art Store on Fort Street.

The walls of Clover Place bear the art of tenants past and present. Paintings and handicrafts given as gifts to staff spill from their offices and lead to a common space from where the works originate.

There, reggae music pumps and tenants gather around a table covered in art supplies, getting crafty.

“It’s a little bit of chaos,” said Shannon McLeod, support worker at the supported housing complex for formerly homeless tenants, many facing mental health or addictions challenges. “The space is positive and very encouraging.”

For two years art programming has been a part of Pacifica Housing’s offerings to tenants of their supported care buildings.

While creating and displaying works at Clover Place has given the tenants ownership over their environment, McLeod said, it has also provided an opportunity to welcome the public into that space. A range of personal works created by Pacifica tenants is available to view or purchase during an opening exhibition and month-long show at Island Blue Art Store.

Evan James, a carver and painter representing the more experienced end of that range, finds himself offering artistic guidance to his fellow tenants at the Camas Gardens complex. He has two paintings in the show, including one titled Double Headed Serpent.

“On the double-headed serpent there’s a good and bad and a constant battle between them, like what’s going on within me,” said James, speaking openly of his recovery process. “The face is there for guidance and the hand is there for balance. … It’s a mythological being, but it’s something I feel I have inside me: the good and the bad. Which one outweighs the other is usually the one you feed the most.”

James has sold works in the past and sees the show as an opportunity to return to the local art scene.

Clover Place tenant David Small has displayed Solace in Recovery, a sketch of a city within a jungle, representative of his focus on Taoism and desire to live life with simplicity.

“I find art very therapeutic,” Small said. “It helps you empty the mind. … The more you can empty the mind and focus on becoming the person you’re intending to be, the more you become that person you’re intended to be.”

Small, still harbouring some trepidation, didn’t take the decision to show his personal work in public lightly.

“At Clover Place, everyone knows each other and what their struggles are and what they need, but opening up to the wider community is putting yourself out there to be vulnerable,” McLeod said.

The downtown show also provides the opportunity for tenants to see their work in a public space, said Kristy Colpron, spokesperson and event co-ordinator with Pacifica.

“They can go down at any time and be inconspicuous and view their art on the wall,” Colpron said.

The show exemplifies how Pacifica is striving to connect tenants with the community at large, Colpron added, noting the organization’s desire to partner with community groups for other programming opportunities, such as culinary education.

“People like to get involved and it doesn’t always have to be on a donations level,” she said.

Works from 14 artists, ranging in price from $20 to $400, will be on display throughout the month of May at Island Blue Art Store, 905 Fort St., The opening exhibition runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., May 10. Tickets, available through Colpron at 250-385-2131 or kristyc@pacificahousing.ca, are $10 and support the art program.

“It’s been a great personal experience,” said McLeod, an artist herself who creates her own work alongside tenants. “Everyone’s unique and you want to find a way to connect with people. Art is a great way to do that. Now we have this thing that we share. It’s pretty powerful for me and I hope it is for them, too.”