Annotated articles: Arts, culture, and heritage

Editor’s note: This post includes clear language summaries of articles on the topics of healthcare and substance use created for Allison Taylor’s EDST 583A: The Political Economy of Education class as part of a Community Action Project.

Thomas Chan
Masters of Education student
University of Bristish Columbia

A group of actors sitting on chairs on a stage.

Image by cottonbro studio/Pexels.

Sadeghi-Yekta, K. (2017). In the Limelight: Enthusiasm, commitment and need. Research in Drama Education, 22(1), 144–147.

This article tells a story about Project Limelight Society (Project Limelight). Started in 2011, it was one of the few free youth programs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). Sisters Maureen Webb and Donalda Weaver established Project Limelight to increase opportunities for youth in the DTES to participate in.  The core aim of Project Limelight is to empower young participants and preserve their dignity. Maureen and Donalda believe children need an opportunity to shine.  Instead of an audition, participants are selected for their enthusiasm, commitment and need. During the first six weeks of the program, they learn singing, dancing, mime, laughter yoga, comedy, song-writing, etc. Participants then suggest pantomimes they would be interested in presenting. The creative team chooses one suggestion, situates it in the DTES or the wider surroundings of Vancouver, and begins rewriting the scripts with the participants. To offer equal amounts of stage time, the revised scripts do not include major roles. Prior to the performances, participants play a part in all artistic choices, including stage sets, props, costumes and make-up.

To support the not-for-profit program, Webb and Weaver bought a local restaurant on the East Side of Vancouver. They operate it as a social enterprise with profit going back to fund Project Limelight. Project Limelight is more than theatre. It provides participants with healthy homemade snacks and meals that they may not have access to. Webb and Weaver also work with participants to address other small but significant needs such as transport to and from rehearsals and homework. In the DTES, many families and children have never visited a theatre or seen a theatre performance. Through Project Limelight, participants have the opportunity to experience applause, feel the empowerment of being on stage, build self-esteem and to shine.

Cook, C., & Belliveau, G. (2018). Community Stories and Growth Through Research-Based Theatre. LEARNing Landscapes, 11(2), 109–126.

In 2016, some members of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) community and staff at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Learning Exchange came together to create a theatre play. Over the next two years, more than 30 community members, artists and staff would collectively write and rehearse the play, design and build the set, and finally stage 4 performances. The title of the play was “Voices UP!” and it was a series of stories about community members’ experiences at UBC Learning Exchange.

In this research, theatre actor and playwright, Chris Cook, who was also part of “Voices UP!” production, looks at how this project had impacted the participants. In response to invitations from Chris, four members of the DTES community shared their stories and experiences through individual interviews. During the interview, participants also did sketches and brought objects in order to represent their experience. Unlike most academic researches, Chris used the interview content and chosen objects to co-create a new short script named “Give Me Your Hands” with the participants. Instead of quoting what was said in the interviews, Chris and his co-author use excerpts from the script of “Give Me Your Hands” to present themes they have identified from the study. The co-creating of “Give Me Your Hands” lets researchers capture experiences that may be difficult to present fully in traditional academic writing. It also breaks away from the traditional unequal relationship between research and participant. “Voices UP!” and this research show us community members can be co-creators of an experience that is creatively fulfilling and emotionally empowering.

Soma, T., Li, B., & Shulman, T. (2022). A Citizen Science and Photovoice Approach to Food Asset Mapping and Food System Planning. Journal of Planning Education and Research, Journal Article, 739456.

Planners and policymakers often use food asset maps to identify resources, facilities and spaces that can be used to support community’s food security. These assets include community kitchens, retailers, community food centres, community gardens, food banks, and more. However, not everyone shares the same understanding of “food asset”.

In this photovoice study, researchers offer an alternative narrative through photography and interviews of 10 diverse community members in the City of Vancouver. These citizen scientists come from marginalized communities including Indigenous peoples, racialized peoples, former youth in care, seniors, people of diverse gender identities, low-income community members and people with disabilities. They expose barriers, for example, long lineups to access low-cost food and the poor quality of the food offered. Food bank is also part of the two-tiered food system which limits marginalized people to less desirable food. Citizen scientists reveal hidden meanings and food assets that are often overlooked in the settler-colonial settings. Foraging, dumpster diving and gardening provide people with the autonomy in obtaining food. While citizen scientists recognize the importance of small independent immigrant-owned grocers for their supply of affordable fresh produce, these food assets are under the threat of redevelopment.

Food assets are more than nutrition and calories, but also about belonging, culture, decolonization, knowledge sharing and spirituality. Several citizen scientists highlight food asset as a community space: for gardening, cooking and Indigenous self-determination. Drawing on the experiences of citizen scientists, researchers make suggestion for future zoning and planning policies.

Goodman, A. (2019). Digital Storytelling With Heroin Users in Vancouver. International Quarterly of Community Health Education, 39(2), 75–89.

In 2017, more than 1420 people died from drug overdoses in British Columbia. While mainstream media and journalists have helped raise public awareness about the opioid crisis, they often portray drug users as evil doers or social outcasts with no positive value. Researcher Aaron Goodman hoped to carry out an experimental project that can help humanize drug users through an approach named digital storytelling. In digital storytelling, participants create and tell their stories with a mix of photographs, video, voiceover recordings, music, and text. As part of his project, Aaron recruited 10 participants from the Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). All of them were suffering from long-term addiction and had tried conventional treatments but had been unable to stop. So, these patients joined the heroin-assisted treatment program at the clinic. The project of digital storytelling included a 3-day workshop. At the end, eight participants completed 2 to 3-minute digital stories. In this article, Aaron shares the digital stories by three participants, Marie, Johnny and Oralie Sagmoen. Although the website containing their work is no longer accessible, the article delivers three unique backstories. They are true accounts of life events from the perspective of each individual. As Sagmoen said, “My story is real and truthful. I think that sometimes the media doesn’t have a real story, you know? That they’re just putting it together from bits and bobs they’ve collected from different people . . . I told the real story. It came from my heart.”

Throughout the article, there is also discussion about the heroin-assisted treatment program which was almost outlawed by the Canadian government in 2013. Apart from giving a voice to its participants, this study helps educate the public and decision makers about treatment programs that are based on opioid substitution and maintenance.

Li, J., Moore, D., & Smythe, S. (2018). Voices from the “Heart”: Understanding a Community-Engaged Festival in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 47(4), 399–425.

Launched in 2004, the Heart of City Festival is an annual community festival that takes place in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) between the last week of October and the first week of November. It features arts performances, music, dancing, comedy, poetry, craftwork, and other cultural and heritage activities. These activities are both created by and for community members and allies that have close ties to the DTES. In a neighborhood that is framed as “the poorest postal code in Canada”, the Festival celebrates the rich history and cultural diversity of DTES.

To understand what the Festival means to the community, researcher Jing Li spent sixteen months between 2013 and 2015 to immerse in the community. She gathered research data by being at Festival events (including rehearsals, pre/post-Festival workshops), writing down observations and reflections in her research journal. Apart from informal conversations, she also conducted dozens of interviews with a wide range of participants including community residents, performers, organizers, audiences, volunteers, sponsors, and working staff. As a researcher, Jing honored her participants by listening to them, making necessary changes and sharing with them the research results.

In brief, the study found the Festival has become the site of identity formation, community building and collective action among DTES residents. Despite the dominant negative portrayal of the neighborhood, a unique local culture is born within the Festival. This group culture is created through the public display of the diversity, variety, and cultural wealth of the DTES, and performed and practiced in different visual and audio modes of expression.

Harrison, K. (2009). “Singing my Spirit of Identity”: Aboriginal Music for Well-being in a Canadian Inner City. MUSICultures, 36(Journal Article), 1–21.

In this study, Klisala Harrison looks at how Indigenous music may promote well-being for individuals who take part in cultural healing programs. To do that, Klisala went to three spaces that have incorporated musical expressions in their programs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She followed four Indigenous people, closely observed their practices there and reported three stories.

In the first story, St’át’imic elder Fred John led and taught drumming at two locations. His approach to musical healing is fluid. Instead of being limited by indigenous copyright and strictly following his tribal identity, Fred John tries to sing songs from all directions or locations. In his words, “It’s almost like there’s a spirit that gives me their… Whatever those people down there are needing, I will present it to them.”

St’át’imic singer Gerry Oleman has a more inclusive approach when leading hand drumming at Aboriginal Front Door. There are no rules about who can access the musical expressions, based on gender, or the use of drugs or alcohol. He also relaxed some rules so that people suffering from addiction may access Aboriginal music and cultural healing.

The third story features two Alberta Cree, Brenda Wells and Frank McAllister, who took part in hand drumming and song-writing at Positive Outlook. Both of them had a difficult past as they were placed in non-Native foster care, became a drug user and spent time in jail. It was in jail that they became involved in Aboriginal musical expressions. Brenda found healing in Aboriginal drumming, reclaiming musical heritages that were not taught to her as a child. Similarly, Frank also found the gifts of identity and well-being through his musical practice and song-writing.

These stories show Indigenous music has healed individuals struggling substance use, crime and violence while reviving the spirits of identity for some.


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