Pitch me a story at sarah dot berms at gmail dot com

Healing the heart

Downtown Eastside festival showcases community’s talent


“Memory is the mother of community.”

These are the insightful words of Downtown Eastside poet Sandy Cameron and the mantra of the upcoming Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival.

Cameron is a social conscience within the neighbourhood and one of hundreds of artists and organizers participating in the 12-day arts celebration beginning Oct. 29. The Heart of the City Festival aims to give a creative voice to a diverse community that has endured many historical struggles.

“I’m a grassroots poet,” explains Cameron. “I like stories and my stories are written in short lines.”

In his creative work, Cameron recounts the history of aboriginal people, working people and other groups who have fought for human rights.

“When we can remember these stories it strengthens the identity of the community,” Cameron says.

With the help of 35 community organizations and over 600 contributing artists, the annual festival has become an integral part of the Downtown Eastside identity.

Cameron also stresses the importance of giving artists of all stripes a platform to share hopes, dreams and concerns.

“Art in the Downtown Eastside can be an expression of what people feel most deeply and believe most deeply.”

Artistic producer Terry Hunter says part of the festival’s mandate is to showcase art forms from every culture and skill level. While munching on french fries at the Ovaltine Café on East Hastings, Hunter speaks enthusiastically about one of the festival’s most prominent performers, singer Dalannah Gail Bowen.

Bowen is unique in her cultural heritage. With African-Canadian and Cherokee backgrounds, she captures a rare and influential cultural perspective. But Bowen’s greatest diversity is found in her music. She combines native drumming and song with contemporary blues, gospel and protest song styles. Bowen feels a personal connection to the neighbourhood’s artistic community.

“For me, the Heart of the City Festival is important in my life because I actually came out of my homelessness and addiction through performing,” she says. “Part of me feels the growth of the festival is part of my artistic growth.”

Visual artist and poet Dianne Wood has been involved in many creative events. In addition to hosting a monthly Downtown Eastside poetry group, Wood makes art out of fabrics made during her sewing classes at the Carnegie Community Centre. She has also participated in radio broadcasts and cabaret events.

“It’s amazing,” she says. “For me it’s just one big house party. There’s so many people here and we all collaborate with each other.”

Although the Heart of the City Festival began in 2004, performances of the past still live on in the hearts and memories of attendees. Hunter vividly describes an evening at the Carnegie Centre three years ago when Dalannah Gail Bowen performed. Bowen sang about her struggle with addiction and the importance of people and children in her life.

“It was such a poignant song,” Hunter says.

“I remember it well,” Bowen explains. “I was singing the song ‘Quiet Time’. The line was, ‘I love to see laughter on a child’s face.’ Suddenly a little boy about two or three years old climbed up on stage and handed me a cookie.”

Bowen sang and smiled at the little boy, warming the hearts of everyone who attended. “It was one of those magic moments – you just couldn’t have planned it,” Bowen says.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Hunter adds.

This year’s festival is sure to include a multitude of magic moments.

For a complete schedule and for information visit HeartoftheCityFestival.com. The festival runs from Oct. 29 to Nov. 9.

Published October 29. Photo by David Cooper.

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: