At Kaleido Family Arts Festival last month, two art projects connected community members through personal and shared stories.
The Story Station used people’s stories to develop community. The project began with organizers Lindsay Ruth Hunt and Cortney Lohnes, who wanted to create something that capitalized on the strong sense of community around Alberta Avenue. The digital Story Station their team set up at Kaleido is part of their larger Live Story Project, an initiative that aims to use stories to connect people, building community and capacity.
“The Story Station is about engaging passersby and getting them thinking about their relationship to the community and having them share their story on camera or audio to be collected and documented,” Hunt said.
Hunt and Lohnes want to engage active community members as well as those less accustomed to sharing their story. “It often took about 15 minutes of just chatting with them about their relationship to the neighbourhood. Often they would think, ‘Oh, we don’t have a story,’ but once we started talking with them and asking questions, that would change.”
One man’s story stood out to Hunt. “He had only met his neighbours through his backyard a few times. But one day he got too much gravel from a neighbour and had to deal with all the gravel somehow. Sharing the gravel encouraged him to engage with his neighbours and eventually facilitated him getting to know his neighbours.”
Hunt even shared one of her own stories. “I have been in the neighbourhood for three years now but soon after we had first arrived, I got pregnant. I thought, ‘OK, I really want to connect with new mothers in the neighbourhood and how do I do that?’ I had been frequently going to The Carrot and saw there was a parent/child group on Fridays. So I got myself excited about that and amped myself up to go. But when I went, there was no one there! I just bought a coffee and I turned around and left.”
Hunt explained her desire for community stems from her childhood. “I think back to my time as a child in my neighbourhood where I grew up. We all knew each other and we could all look out for each other.” Hunt said, “Now as a mother, I really want to foster that sense of community for my daughter.”
Another booth at Kaleido had a similar focus. The Unity Project used yarn to weave individual stories into a physical tapestry of community. Marie Butler, a local art therapist who worked the booth, commented on the way stories can come together to create community.
“The core message [of the Unity Project] is as individuals, we can choose a beautiful piece of yarn, but you can only do so much with it. But when we weave it into a community, it becomes this beautiful canopy that we can all share in.”
She said, “The statements were very powerful because people could see how many people in the community wrapped their thread line around ‘I don’t have a home’, ‘I rent a home’, ‘I identify with LGBTQ’ or ‘I live with a chronic illness.’ ”
Butler saw a few hundred people participate in the Unity Project over the weekend to create an impressive demonstration of the community. “What we bring is one thread,” Butler said. “But how we benefit is when all the threads come together.”
Featured Image: Sandra Podjarkowski admires her thread in the Unity Project. Visit kaleidofest.ca to watch a time-lapse video showing the entire process of the installation. | Sierra Bilton