Community Arts in Action in the Downtown Eastside

The Downtown Eastside is a hotbed of arts in action, with a host of projects that give voice to our community’s talents and concerns, provide mentorship and training, and generate interest across Canada.

AHA Media began as citizen journalists and social media consultants giving voice to the Downtown Eastside. Today the mobile-media organization spotlights the DTES – from arts to social justice to housing – filming events and sharing news through social media,

Since 1980, the Carnegie Community Centre has provided arts programming at the Centre and Oppenheimer Park for individual and group expression, skill and community building, increasing neighbourhood pride and developing talents of many over the years. Partnerships with arts and community organizations in large scale projects have provided avenues for creative development, addressed issues relevant to the neighbourhood, and involved professional artists to enhance capacity within the community. In partnership with Vancouver Foundation last year, Carnegie distributed 67 Small Arts Grants to assist individual DTES artists to develop their careers.

The Carnegie Newsletter, likely the most widely read publication in the Downtown Eastside, first published in 1982, with 23 issues per year since 1986. Today it has a circulation of 1200 (including City Council, the public library and schools). The newsletter covers issues that matter to the community and publishes local poetry and news about activism and social justice, arts and sports, (See The Heart of the Community: The Best of the Carnegie Newsletter, now part of the UBC curriculum)

The Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House’s Right to Food Program includes mobile Right to Food Murals representing 7 Food Solutions of their DTES Kitchen Tables Project, Food Textile Workshops, Food Street Theatre, Food Gestures and Storytelling. These initiatives, along with their traditional Child & Youth and Roving Community Kitchens, support the right of DTES residents to quality, healthy and abundant food, delivered in a dignified manner,

Blending art, social entrepreneurship and community, ATIRA Women’s Resource Society’s Enterprising Women Making Art (EWMA) program provides space, workshops, and mentoring.  EWMA supports women artisans from the Downtown Eastside to pool tools and resources to produce and market visual art and handmade projects in a community of alleys and creativity,

Gallery Gachet is an artist run centre that presents up to 12 exhibits a year plus residencies, workshops and other events. Run as a collective the gallery provides artists marginalized by mental health illness, trauma or abuse, with opportunities to exhibit, curate, perform, teach and develop leadership skills,

Judith Marcuse Projects (JMP) and Simon Fraser University have partnered to establish the International Centre of Art for Social Change (ICASC). The first in North America, ICASC is a global hub for networking, training, professional development, research and community outreach in the burgeoning field of arts for social change. This fall, ICASC is delivering credit/non-credit learners with a thirteen week institute: Exploring Arts for Social Change: Communities in Action, which they hope to offer again in spring,

Believing in self-empowerment and social transformation through the arts, the St. James’ Music Academy provides high quality classical music and dance education programs without cost for low income Downtown Eastside Children and Youth (orchestra, choir and youth mentoring in music and dance), continuing the church’s 125 year commitment to the neighbourhood and excellence in music,

Vancouver Moving Theatre is working with Canadian community play producers on projects to strengthen leadership capacity within the field of community-engaged arts (including within the Downtown Eastside), to explore potential for future collaborations and expand the visibility of Downtown Eastside community arts projects across Canada,

This December W2 Cafe and a community media centre will open, serving DTES and Vancouver residents with community radio and W2TV, a community lounge, public washrooms, meeting rooms, letterpress, open web lab, and creative technology incubator. W2’s mandate is to break the digital divide, promote social inclusion, cross-cultural dialogue, and redress by providing access to gear, training, production, and distribution of people’s stories,


by Savannah Walling