Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wednesday Wonder: The Possibilities Project

Let's free-associate for a minute.

Homeless.

When you see, hear, or read that word, what comes to mind?

Artist? Musician? Screenwriter? Creative? Self-discovery?

Be honest. Not one of those words comes to mind, does it?

What about this word: Possibilities?

I imagine you still are shaking your head no. You. . . and you. . . and you, too.

For most of us, associating any of those words with homelessness just doesn't happen.

* * * * * *

Some months ago, I wrote an essay about the award-winning film Humble Beauty, a documentary that opens our eyes to the beauty that is created by people experiencing homelessness. Today, I want to open your eyes again, this time to what can be accomplished when people believe in possibilities.

Move from within.
Don't move the way that fear wants you to.
Begin a foolish project.
Noah did.
~ Rumi

My friend Louise is the public relations director for Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre (DI) in Canada, the largest in the country, providing in 2008 more than 350,000 bed nights to more than 12,500 distinct individuals. Louise writes, often movingly, about her work at DI on her blog Recover Your Joy. When I want a lift, I make sure to read Louise's blog. It's full of words about possibilities and about the hope that stirs when possibilities are offered.

A DI lifeline, Louise wrote last week about a partnership between DI and a local church, and offered a glimpse of what that collaboration is producing. I was so taken by what is being achieved that I told Louise I intended to share a bit about the project on my own blog.

The partnership is called The Possibilities Project. The title alone gives you some insight into DI's approach to homelessness. That approach doesn't start and stop with a handout of a warm meal and a blanket; though it provides emergency shelter, DI isn't defined as a stopping place for the night. Nor it is just a place that makes sure that the people experiencing homelessness have clothing to replace what they arrived in, or receive job-skills or job-placement assistance so they can become wage-earners if they're lucky, or get substance abuse counseling to get off the bottle or the needle — all services we typically associate with organizations like DI, wherever they're located.

Most organizations concerned with homelessness are not like DI, however. DI is not your typical shelter.

DI understands that shelter is not the problem and housing is not the solution.

As you learn if you stick around Louise long enough, DI is about helping people reclaim their identity by providing them a place where they find respect, compassion, understanding, and resources. Resources like The Possibilities Project.

In describing the project, Louise writes, "The intention was to create an opportunity and a space where individuals experiencing homelessness could explore their creativity [through the visual arts] and deepen their connection to themselves and the human condition we all share. There was no expected outcome, no destination, no measurement of success determined by how many brushstrokes were cast or notes sung."

Imagine! Outcomes for the person controlling the purse aren't established. Achievement of goals to justify money spent isn't measured. There is no expectation that concrete process and procedures will be put in place as the project expands. There is no red tape!

The wonder of it is this: The project is working for the clients who themselves had not equated the word "possibilities" with their lives.

The Possibilities Project is providing a place and a time where DI clients are experiencing joy, excitement, serenity, and a sense of well-being. The only expectation, Louise says, is that the project will "continue to nurture the spirit of creativity at the heart of each participant" as each "self-directs the unfolding of possibility" in his or her life. As I said, DI is not a typical shelter.

Some three-and-a-half years after its launch, The Possibilities Project encompasses not only painting and other visual arts, its basis, but also poetry, writing, drama, singing and other forms of music-making, and performance. Most recently, for example, the project made possible the participation of a DI client in a form of participatory theatre facilitated by David Diamond, director of Vancouver's Headlines Theatre. (Louise describes that activity, "Power Play: Homelessness", here.) Notably, DI clients have inspired Two Bit Oper-Eh?-Shun, an oratorio whose libretto was written by Onalea Gilbertson and whose music was composed by Marcel Bergmann. At different points in the production, DI's Drop-In Centre Singers performed their own music and prose. Two Bit had its world premiere on January 16 of this year and was reviewed by the Calgary Herald.

The video below is an overview of The Possibilities Project, and supported a talk Louise gave recently. In affirms the meaning of art in the lives of DI's clients, it shows that homelessness is a condition and that art is a way into finding a way out of that condition, to healing and becoming. As Louise says, in committing themselves to taking action through their creative expression, those participating in the project are creating "a different kind of place [for themselves], a place where art awakens each of us to possibility in a place where people matter."


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10 comments:

M.L. Gallagher said...

Oh my, you made me cry.

Thank you my beautiful friend. You awaken in me the possibilities of friendship at a deep soul level.

Thank you.

Hugs

Louise

nAncY said...

place where they find respect, compassion, understanding...a place where people matter.

this is what really stuck out in your written words.
i have not gotten to the vid yet.

gotta eat in small bites today.

and
it's good gettng to know louise

good getting to know louise...

sarah said...

that is amazing, and gives me such joy.

shrinkthecamel said...

This is such an incredible outreach. Perfect title - "Possibilities" - Outstretched arms to run in to! I will be heading next month into a project in Philadelphia to do some volunteer work, sounds very similar. Combining homeless outreach with ministry and art and music and jobs. We're going as a family.

Laura said...

This is the answer to that helpless feeling I get when I pass a panhandler on the side of the road. To give money, yet not self...I always take the easy way out. But to scoop someone up--gift them with themselves...Ah, what a wonderful gift. Thank you for sharing this, Maureen. It gives hope.

Don Kimrey said...

I'm so glad you didn't stop writing. Especially about the homeless shelter. I've completed a book which, I hope and pray, will be of help to those who've fallen. The website is under construction and lacking at present, but I have a few sample chapters and a table of contents =. If you feel it might be of value in your friend's work, I'll donate a copy to the home. www.Godscomebackkids.com. Also, my son developed my logo, and I wonder how I should compensate him. Is that the area in which you have expertise? Would value your input. ~dk

Uma V. Chandru said...

The name -possibilities -is perfect and thank you for your eloquent description of this amazingly creative and sensitive project, which facilitates and promotes understanding, respect and most of all self dignity. This is true spirituality. Although I am not religious, I feel inspired to start something like this in Bangalore, India. Thank you.

M.L. Gallagher said...

Hi Maureen -- and all those who commented on Maureen's blog -- Thank you.

We continue to evolve through the Project and while it has definitely enriched the lives of the clients participating -- it has enriched my life beyond my imaginings.

Yesterday, I chatted with one of the artists involved and talked about his 'moving on', into an apartment building we own. "I'm not there. Yet." he said. "BUt I am thinking about it."

When I commented on his sobriety through the past few weeks as they rehearsed and got ready for the play, he said, "I figured the rest of the team deserved my best. And I'm not at my best when I'm drinking."

Very profound.

We never know what will happen when we let our imaginations and creativity soar. We never know what dreams can unfold -- what we do know is, we can't fly with our wings folded.

Blessings to everyone -- and Uma -- let me know if I can help in any way with your efforts in Bangalore -- louiseg@thedi.ca

Don -- you too! Congratulations on your book and your journey! We'd love to receive a copy -- and we'd love to send you one of our books too! :)

Louise

Maureen said...

I, too, want to thank everyone for stopping here and commenting. Every day I see evidence of the power of the arts in life, and The Possibilities Project is another wonderful example. It's replicable. I hope it will spread. We all need to build spaces in this world where "people matter".

Don, check my profile page; you'll find my e-mail there. Would like to see your site when it's up.

Judith Vogelsang said...

Thanks for telling us about the success of the DI project. When we made HUMBLE BEAUTY, we discovered that the idea of people finding their identity through art was a common thread for everyone. It's something we had no idea about when we starting shooting. We learned a lot from the Skid Row artists. One thing is so clear: art can change lives dramatically.