Maps and Memories
By: Nicole Armos, ASC! Research Assistant
Last June I had the fortune of attending the 4th Downtown Eastside Artfare Institute “Maps and Memories”, a three-day workshop on researching and expressing community stories through oral history and mapping. The workshop was co-produced and facilitated by the artistic directors of two of Canada’s leading community-engaged arts organizations: Ruth Howard from Ontario’s Jumblies Theatre, and Savannah Walling from Vancouver Moving Theatre, both of whom are also collaborators in our ASC! research project.
On one hand, it was a professional development workshop: developing skills and discussing case studies, best practices, and ethics of the work. However, the weekend was simultaneously an incubator for an artistic process exploring the history of the lost streams of False Creek, a network of over 75 miles of streams surrounding the Fraser River that were gradually filled in or encased in asphalt over the past 150 years to support the city’s development.
This unique combination of a facilitation workshop and artistic process allowed us to live out – albeit it in fast forward – the three stages of project creation: “research and connections”, “creation and performance”, and “legacy and aftermath”. For the first stage of “research” we reflected on our own experiences, analysed historical photographs of False Creek, and participated in interviews and dialogues with two First Nations guests, Woody Morrison and Wes Nahanee/Chiaxsten, who shared their intergenerational histories with the land. These experiences were then used as inspirations to develop a series of multidisciplinary performances, after which we debriefed and reflected on our experiences as both students and participants.
I was fascinated by how, despite the various strands co-existing in this workshop – skill-building, theory, practice, and participatory art-making – they nonetheless came together with incredible fluidity. In fact, all the elements brought us back to a collective map we created over the course of the weekend. Working on sheets of paper covering four tables, we began the map by drawing a fantasy landscape of waterways, over which we gradually superimposed images and words depicting personal memories, reflections on the history of lost streams, and our experiences and evaluations of the workshop.
This central map helped to ground us and also let me appreciate the multiple avenues through which learning may come. For instance, when we began drawing the collective map, we were asked to move around the tables drawing waterways with pastels. I began drawing a thin stream, and by the time I worked my way back to the table where I started I discovered that, unlike some of the more robust waterways, my stream had been covered up by other drawings.
It offered me a very vivid understanding of the way the False Creek streams had disappeared to competing visions of the land, while on a symbolic level, it was a reminder of my responsibility as a facilitator, teacher, or interviewer to balance competing voices and not let people’s quieter contributions be “covered up” and left unheard.
Looking back, the weekend was a truly an experience of an “art-ful life”. Unlike in traditional learning or training contexts, where art and creativity are often separated from learning, demonstrating competency, debriefing, or evaluating, in the Artfare Institute all these processes were intertwined with multiple artistic disciplines.
In fact, both Wes Nahanee and Woody Morrison stressed that art practices such as oral storytelling are traditionally an integral part of decision making processes, the transmission of culture and history, the understanding of experiences, and the illustration of values, ideas and wisdom in First Nations communities.
Unfortunately, these forms of knowledge creation and transmission have lost a lot of legitimacy in our society but by working to re-incorporate art in various sectors through partnerships like the ones I am researching now in the ASC! project, we have a chance to regain the lost streams of art in our daily lives.