L’Arche Greater Vancouver presents ‘Here We Go’ gallery exhibit
By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor
The Amelia Douglas Gallery’s latest exhibit Here We Go is a vibrant showcase of artistic spirit and cooperation by people of all abilities.
Here We Go is presented by L’Arche, an organization of communities made up of people with and without developmental disabilities who live together in a family environment. The artists of this gallery are from the local branch, L’Arche Greater Vancouver, a community of about 120 people that is located in Burnaby.
The pieces in this exhibit are part of the Art Together program, which is in its third year. In Art Together, adults with developmental disabilities and the people who assist them are put into pairs or group of three, and they work together over seven weeks to create pieces of art.
Alex Richmond is the program leader of the Emmaus Program, a multi-day activity program at L’Arche Greater Vancouver. He explained that the title of the exhibit—which is also the community theme this year—is from a line of Scripture (Jeremiah 6:16) about finding and choosing the good path in life. To make these lines easily understandable for everyone, Richmond said, they boiled it down to the simple message of “Here we go.”
All of the artists have been encouraged to interpret the theme in their own ways, such as in paintings relating to vacations like “Disneyland Airport” by Patrick Byron and Jenn Smith, or more literal representations like “The Good Path” by Melina Boote and Dianne Koci. Richmond worked with Guy Holland to make “Ready to Go,” an acrylic on canvas painting of a fire station that shows Holland’s enthusiasm for firefighters.
A lot of teamwork goes into producing each piece of artwork—from deciding what to make, to the artistic process itself. Holland has limited mobility, so to create “Ready to Go,” Richmond used tape to mask areas of the canvas, while Holland did the actual painting by brush. “It’s a very good collaboration, we both felt like we really contributed,” said Richmond.
L’Arche was founded in 1974 by Jean Vanier, the son of one of Canada’s previous governor generals, Georges Vanier. While visiting France, the younger Vanier saw how people with disabilities were often kept in institutions and treated badly. Vanier was inspired to come up with a better system of living together as a community, instead of in isolation, and this became the family model of L’Arche.
Today L’Arche has over 150 communities and 14 community projects in 37 countries across the world, with 2 communities in BC: one in Burnaby and another on Vancouver Island.
Audrey Staudacher, President of the L’Arche Foundation of Greater Vancouver Board, said that the organization gives adults with disabilities a chance to live as part of a community, an opportunity they might never have otherwise had. “L’Arche provides them with a family,” she said.
Staudacher explained that many of L’Arche’s volunteers or live-in assistants often plan to be involved with the organization for only a few months or a single year, but some of them end up staying on a lot longer. Richmond said that he had only intended to be with L’Arche for 6 months, but he’s still here 20 years later.
Annelise Jacky, the Community Life Coordinator, has a similar story about her time with L’Arche. She first became involved with the organization in 1998, and originally planned to volunteer for one year. But then, she said, “One year became 15.”
Jacky said that she’s always awed by the talent and creativity that goes into the artwork produced at L’Arche. Although some of the assistants have degrees from art schools, the real stars of the show are the core members, the people with disabilities, who are always unafraid to express themselves. “They just go for it, you ask what colour and they pick the brightest colour, and they just really go,” said Jacky.
And the process of creating art, like L’Arche’s whole family model, is an amazing experience for everyone of all abilities. “You come with a new freedom of being yourself,” said Jacky.
Here We Go will be on display in the Amelia Douglas Gallery, on the fourth floor of the New Westminster Campus, until June 10. An Artists Talk will be held on Thursday, May 11, at 8 p.m. in the gallery.