Last week I had the opportunity to stroll through the most painful, gaping, oozing societal wound that lies hidden within one of the most beautiful cities in our land. It was my first time ever on East Hastings Street, which borders Vancouver’s funky Gastown and historic Chinatown.
East Hastings is only a few blocks from the familiar and somewhat more prosperous area where my son resides, which is also part of what has been termed the Downtown Eastside. I was familiar with observing people who were obviously drug addicted or mentally ill. It was such a shame, I’d often thought, that my fellow human beings had to sleep in doorways because they were homeless. Thank goodness my son had comfortable lodgings and three square meals a day!
East Hastings was shocking to me because of the large number of people lying side by side (but not together) along the sidewalks in a state of disarray; blankets and clothing strewn everywhere; shopping baskets loaded with belongings, some actually filled with items for sale: Downtown Eastside entrepreneurs!
The Gallery Gachet, where my son Bruce has been engaged in writing and painting for the past twenty years, was until recently located inside an historic old building on Cordova Street above what was rumoured to be a tunnel where nefarious goings on had occured in the old days. Trouble was rent had risen to 4000 dollars a month and mental health dollars had shrunk. An old hotel on East Hastings became available and has since been transformed into a clean and roomy venue for mental health drop-in and support services, as well as artistic expression. A nearby restaurant has offered additional space for hanging paintings.
Mike and Chris (Boxer Press) had been impressed after browsing through Bruce’s graphic art manuscript. They decided his book “I Threw a Brick Through a Window” was worthy of their criteria which was to focus on societal issues. The story “Blue Lipstick” particularly rings true for me because it’s about a woman coming to terms with breast cancer. On September 22nd, my daughter Fern, her husband Ron, his mother Grace and my cousin Florence were welcomed into the Gallery Gachet for a lovely well attended launch of Bruce’s book.
Although Gallery Gachet has been relocated to the “underbelly” of the Downtown Eastside, there is a growing spirit of hope and compassion in the air for the sidewalk residents of East Hastings Street. Artistic endeavors do bring people together and perhaps what has been termed “outsider art” will one day become the new Van Gogh classics to be hung on walls in the very best of homes and museums.
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