Aunty Alice Eluistin with her woven star and Elvis. : ) Photo: Tavina Yettica-Paulson.
Our visit to Canada coincides with the end of their summer break so there’s lots of activity, festivals and people out and about. We begin in Vancouver, then travel to Winnipeg and Toronto. Before we head back to Australia, Tavina and I are heading down to Bloomington, Indiana USA for a separate visit, but to be part of another Star Weave Community at the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival. Vancouver was cold and fresh for us, but having lived in Melbourne for many years, we didn’t mind. Vancouver, just like all the cities we have been to, is beautiful. There were some special highlights, like the impressive MOA Museum of Anthropology and the glorious Lynn Canyon. I got to do some ‘Star Shining’ (Star bombing) there which was so much fun. One thing people don’t often talk about when visiting ‘beautiful’ cities, is the poverty and low socio-economic places that are in every city or province. It’s the one thing that looks the same, the world over. You could be in any city in the world, and the homeless look the same as the homeless back in Australia. It reminds me that we are not so different after all, that we have issues like violence, poverty and discrimination in every community.
'Star Shining' at the Vancouver Public Library and at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre with Arts Programmer, Cyndy Chwelos. Photo: Tavina Yettica-Paulson and Maryann Talia Pau.
My first meeting was with an energetic and dynamic woman named Cyndy Chwelos, Arts Programmer from Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre. Not everyone we’ve contacted had time available to host a star weaving workshop, for different reasons - busy schedules or jam packed summer programs. But we did insist that making the time to meet for a cuppa and a chat about the OMS project and potential opportunities was just as worthwhile. Meeting with them is also about demonstrating a genuine interest in what they are doing in their communities, through art or other means. Every person or organisation I meet with or run a star weaving workshop, all have similar values to the OMS project at the heart of their core business – to support, develop and nurture dignity in their communities.
The Roundhouse provides a number of engaging programs, from woodwork to pottery, to dance and theatre. Their mandate is to engage community in art programs that foster creativity, partnerships and a deeper sense of place and belonging. If people feel cared for, if they feel capable and invested in, they will want to participate and take ownership of their people and environments. It makes sense. Often, the practise is harder than the talk, but I get the feeling they practise it here.
One thing that really impressed me about the Roundhouse, other than being a contemporary conversion of a heritage space is their commitment to respond to the needs of their local communities in terms of offering meaningful and high quality workshops and experiences. This and their support of local artists and ensuring their inclusion in conversations around the development of art programs. Dance is huge in Vancouver at the moment, best exemplified in the ‘All Bodies Dance project’ a free community dance project for mixed abilities and ‘Leading from Beside’ a collaboration between community members and dance artists to develop and present new work.
Cyndy loved the idea of the One Million Stars project and is keen to share it with her students, which is fantastic. If I were a local Vancouver artist, wanting support to engage local communities in the OMS project, I would definitely approach the Roundhouse. The general consensus is that organisations like Roundhouse are keen to explore long term relationships that consider collaborations between local and visiting artists. This ensures that skills transfer and cultural exchange is meaningful and reciprocated which can only happen over time. I left feeling inspired and excited about future opportunities to do art work in Vancouver.
Star weaving at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre. These spaces are found in every province and are so important for Native peoples to meet and be together, to care for each other and celebrate who they are.
On Friday we ran 2 star weaving workshops, the first at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Society Centre and the other at the Vancouver Recovery Through the Arts Society, an organisation that offers art programs to those with mental health needs.
At the Friendship centre, we had a beautiful mix of youth, parents, elders and carers of Aboriginal people. One older woman, aunty Alice, was so happy because she was gifted an Elvis container and she wove 3 stars as well. During this workshop, I had a moment to step back and see what’s needed to get people involved in weaving stars or just interested in what the project has to offer. It’s different for every community, and one reason is no less or more important than the other. It demonstrates our diversity, our needs and hopes. For the Friendship centre, acknowledging their country and elders and sharing who I am and where I come from was critical. It helped to show that I care about who they are and that I am honoured to be invited to meet with them on their lands. For those that heard the story, most were moved enough to give it a go, even if they were a bit hesitant about getting ‘crafty.’ The ones that came late, were inspired by the chatter and joy of their friends and the beauty of these woven stars. Even though they didn’t hear the story of the project’s origins, they were intrigued by the focus and calm of their peers. This is when art and craft can cut through conversation and demonstrate what peace, inclusion and creativity can look like.
We were treated to a delicious lunch of wraps and salmon chowder, sweets and fruit and to top it off, Tavina and I were each gifted a hoodie from the Friendship Centre with their logo on it. I nearly cried, not just because it was beautiful, but because we didn’t pack enough warm clothes and it was so what we needed! They loved weaving stars, which always makes me feel so good, so I’m looking forward to staying connected and supporting them to become a Star Weave Community.
'Making' with others means you are giving time to people, which in these days, is a precious gift. Weaving stars is a gift to myself too. Yes, the travel and work to maintain this project is huge and constant, but I find a way to give to myself too. To be grateful for something, to remember what it feels like to be free, healing and in love. Then, hope and love become endless and easy to give to others.
Our last workshop at the Vancouver Recovery Through the Arts Society was a great way to end the day. For this community, violence against women and those with mental health issues is a primary concern. Not only did they get to enjoy learning star weaving from us, but we got to do a tour of their art facilities and see the projects that they are working on, including a large mural for the Trout Lake Community Centre in Vancouver. Mental health is an issue close to my heart, including dealing with depression and anxiety. It’s often overlooked and dismissed as being over sensitive or a weakness, but I’ve come to understand that mental health is common and something we need to learn to live with and manage. Healthy people who feel loved and accepted will act in healthy and loving ways.