Hotbed of Creativity: Groups seek out creative expressions of wildfire experiences

By Venta Rutkauskas –

Birdsong and snowmelt—true signs of spring have sprung. The season carries the energy of renewal and the completion of the dark interval, guiding us to sprout new perspectives based upon our wintry reflections. Under the weight of snow and ash, did you discover something about your wildfire experience that hadn’t had the time to develop in the heat of the moment?

Each of us has a story to tell and countless approaches for telling it. When we gather together with family or friends, stories might spill out in their company, perhaps you journal or draw, quietly recording a memory. Our stories are as diverse as fingerprints and yet they bind us together like threads in the human tapestry.

Collective experiences like wildfires provide a unifying field, in that we each engaged with a specific set of circumstances as a community. Then, our unique filters cast these experiences in varying shades and contexts. This shady area excites artists and those who desire to explore arts as a means of building community, cohesion, and things of beauty. While the process of creative documentation aids in emotional and psychological mending, building a legacy project for the community can add an empathic dimension that creates connectivity.

Musings about these ideas have brought the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake (CACWL) to develop a partnership with poet and spoken word performer, Sonya Littlejohn. Littlejohn’s body of work has focused on inter-cultural relations and anti-oppression themes. She is a gifted teacher and works with Vancouver Poetry House by leading performances and writing intensives for youth. For Littlejohn, the idea of a legacy project that weaves together people’s experiences answers a call many have felt in the undercurrent of the community.

“It feels like a collection of people’s experiences and fire stories would galvanize the community spirit that awoke during the wildfire season,” Littlejohn explains. “Having a book helps unify us and connects us to each other in a tangible way.”

The vision for this project is in development. Look forward to writing and multi-media arts workshops facilitated by Littlejohn later this spring. In these workshops, we’ll be developing the content for the publication and would love to see multi-media projects emerge, as well.

For the Station House Gallery, the open call to artists, “How I spent my Summer Evacuation,” grew out of popular request. “People just asked us to do this,” says Diane Toop, Station House Gallery’s manager.

It’s not physical fire that is at the centre of the call to artists; rather, they hope to receive a more personal response to the process of evacuation, smoke, packing up your loved ones and belongings… What did your unique multitude of cells and emotions do to cope with these experiences, and what colour can you add to the greater picture of our Cariboo wildfires? How might you express that though art? The gallery will be accepting proposals until August 20, so get in contact for more info.

Delving deeply into a stressful encounter like wildfires requires a determination and skill to keep oneself safe. Trauma is a delicate web of threads, and one is never sure what might set off a stress response. If you do find yourself in a precarious state, there are community resources you can call on.

To access mental health and wellness services, and for referrals for specific needs and supports, call the following numbers. All are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
o BC Crisis Line 1-888-353-2273
o 1-800 (SUICIDE) (1-800-784-2433)
o 310-6789 (310Mental Health Support)

At the root of exploration, and these creative responses to our environment, is a web that intersects with multiple levels of our lives. The expressive arts offer practices for storytelling, bringing us together in a meaningful way. We may broaden our horizons, or that is the hope. In a recent report to Sublevel magazine titled,“ Recommendations for Us Right Now for a Future,” author and activist Adrienne Maree Brown offers devastatingly honest tasks needed in response to our global context. She brings into focus community and belonging:

Even if we don’t have a clear sense of the exact solutions to fix the future, we should have a clear sense of how we want to feel in ourselves, in our relationships with each other, in community, and in relationship to the planet. Those feelings aren’t for the far-off future; they are guidance to what we must be seeding and practising now, right now. If we believe in community, we must get curious about the ways we need to grow and communicate to truly be a part of community—not just one community, but the multitude of communities with which we intersect.

When we take a risk and share our inner experiences, especially through the lens of creative expression, we have an opportunity to deepen into a dialogue with truth and beauty. Our community arts institutions are offering some guidance and growth opportunities in honing your story, forging it in the collective fire. We hope you’ll join usat the CACWL workshops or consider submitting to the Station House Gallery. We’ll witness a spark grow into a flame.

Curious about the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake and all that we do? We’re busy planning a free knitting workshop on Saturday, April 14; showcasing the theatrical muse, Miss White Spider, in June; and we are always seeking new board members and volunteers. Visit our website or drop us a line at williamslakearts@gmail.com.

Venta Rutkauskas is the co-ordinator for the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake (CACWL). She is an advocate and lover of the arts and has taught drama and written plays for young children. She is also passionate about the healing arts. to learn more about CACWL and local artists williamslakecommunityartscouncil.com

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