Thursday, April 17, 2014

Homelessness, Lived experience and an arts proposal for London, Ontario

Below I have posted a proposal called "VOICE"  I submitted to The London Community Foundation in 2011.  The community concept sought to mobilize the community around arts and stories of lived experience to help raise awareness about poverty and homelessness in our city.  I thought the information may benefit others seeking to use the arts for change in their own communities across Canada.



Cheryl L. McLean, Publisher, Executive Editor

London, Ont.



VOICE is a year long pilot programme (consisting of numerous community art projects)  leading to a main culminating event  for London, Ontario which will focus on raising awareness through arts  about the  human  stories of those who are often marginalized or unheard in our community.  This will be a unique and community supported opportunity to raise awareness but also a place for inclusivity..for Londoner’s  to come together to celebrate the considerable creativity, diversity and  talents of all of the citizens living in and around the City of London.   The projects and main event/s will help create a place to voice stories about:

  • homelessness
  • poverty, unemployed
  • mental health
  • disability
  • Aboriginal life
  • Environmental issues
  • aging/Alzheimer’s, dementia
  • youth/under-employed
  • immigrant communities
  • needs of caregivers/professional healthcare workers

London, Ontario, is currently experiencing growth and change with an emphasis on development in our city core.   Considering the opportunities and challenges in times of increased urban development and  the  possible consequences such as  displacement, lack of affordable housing, homelessness and poverty,  as well as the critical needs for mental health services, VOICE is a well timed event which would  help serve vital  needs in our city.

The purpose of  VOICE will be to use the arts in many forms  to help bring about transformational change, to  tell and present stories for public witness,  to  help foster public empathy and understanding, to  raise awareness, gather support and to ultimately improve quality of life for our citizens. In terms of action the event will raise awareness, foster empowerment and act as  a catalyst to help raise critical  funds for affordable and accessible housing for those in need in our city. 

It is envisioned VOICE act as  an “umbrella” programme (featuring many arts for change  projects developed and prepared over a year) removing barriers and breaking down prohibitive “special interest” silos while uniting the London community its citizens and  organizations around positive community change.  A number of  local organizations are already currently active in highly successful events that help support local citizens and offer places for self expression  (examples:  CMHA “Framing the Phoenix” (mental health/arts) , “Grit Uplifted” London Intercommunity Health (writing/homelessness), Poetry Slam and others…VOICE will help profile these projects and initiate new projects through story, drama, poetry, art, photography, visual art, music, dance and film in a unified effort to educate the community and  profile persons and issues while working to validate individuals, provide a space and place for creativity and  purpose,  community  connectedness, and foster hope for change.

 It is envisioned that organizationally, members of varied communities (see para. 2 list above)  will  lend a participatory voice in helping to shape the year long projects and main event   (providing input,  leadership, volunteers,  etc.)

It is conceived VOICE  might also link to our London educational communities…research  and social service community and feature research/dissemination  (such as photovoice/performance and narrative  projects etc. ) at our local art galleries and other venues.    Projects will seek to raise awareness about issues of marginalization.  Public and secondary schools would be active in projects linked to the theme as well as the  idea of working together for hope and change.

It is expected the pilot programme would require at least one year in terms of  preparatory lead up programmes and the main event.  Groups will be active over the year in creating art in many forms which will be featured at the main event.   Lead up projects would involve groups working with trained facilitators/directors who will guide them in creating their own exhibits/written contributions/ special performances/music (instrumental/choir etc.) /video/dance/films /digital etc. for VOICE.   This initiative may also involve facilitation and working with homeless persons and other participants  over the year  to help create other forms of craft (which could potentially be marketable)  …carpentry projects for example,  quilting  and projects related to fashion, digital technologies etc.  These projects could help provide creative and purposeful activities while fostering empowerment, agency and self sufficiency.

VOICE will be designed to be a prototype project which could be an exemplar for cities and an example for positive community change… the London VOICE project becoming the model for similar events across Canada.  There are plans to formally study this project as it unfolds in order to create a VOICE  document/report which could be consulted by other municipalities who would wish to institute a similar programme.

In terms of dissemination, The International Journal of The Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice IJCAIP available and accessible worldwide (  will feature several articles about VOICE in upcoming journal issues accessible worldwide  and the third text in the CAIP (Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice) Series,  also titled “VOICE”  will feature an article in the book  about the  story of the London  project as it unfolded… a model  and an inspiration for other communities active in work for  community change.

 Although it is very early to speculate as to which London organizations may be potentially interested in some form of involvement in this event, the following is proposed as a list of possibles:


International Journal of The Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice IJCAIP

London Food Bank

London Intercommunity Health Centre

London Community Foundation

Museum London

Canadian Mental Health Association

London Intercommunity Health

London Health Sciences Centre

University of Western Ontario

Aeolian Hall

Palace Theatre

East London Business Association

Community Care Access


United Way

The Arts Project

My Sister’s Place

Lawyers Feed the Hungry, London, Ont.


Hunger Relief Action Coalition

London Coffee House

Street Connections

Unity Project/Up with Art

London Dental Community Cares

London Fire Department

London Police Department

Habitat for Humanity


Old East Village Business Improvement

London Free Press

Scene Magazine

The Londoner


Proposal summary:

There have been programmes and initiatives related to marginalization and homelessness in London, however, the human issues are still not well understood by the public at large.  This creates a knowledge gap which continues to impede efforts for change in our city and in other urban centres. There is a growing body of research that substantiates the use of the *creative arts for community and cultural change.  VOICE is a community based process and awareness raising initiative , an exemplar for other cities, that uses the arts in action to foster participative citizen engagement, build community vitality and foster transformative change focusing public attention on stories and lived experiences of marginalization, homelessness and related issues.  The initiative will offer an inclusive opportunity to connect around the creativity, diversity and talents of all London’s citizens with arts opportunities for youth to senior citizen with a goal to close the gap between rich and poor and bring about attitudinal change.

VOICE consists of of facilitated and participative arts for change projects (visual arts, storytelling, writing, performance, choral music, other) leading to a culminating event October 2012.  There will be opportunities for research and exhibits in galleries and public spaces to encourage reflection, public dialogue and discussion.    A summary report would be completed 2013 with follow up articles in *IJCAIP Journal and upcoming book *VOICE! Transforming Cities through Citizen Stories and the Arts in Action

 VOICE could potentially  build on work of London CAReS and Strengthening Community and Neighbourhoods, London Community Housing Strategy and The Cultural Prosperity Plan. There was a suggestion a presentation about the new initiative might be scheduled at the Culture Days event and National Housing Day. (list of 30 other potential city collaborations was included in draft submission to LCF).

Leverage may include in kind donations, city venues, community volunteers, IJCAIP donated publishing support, academic expertise, etc.





 Respectfully submitted,




Cheryl McLean/IJCAIP

Executive Editor, Publisher, International Journal of The Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice Journal

Editor, Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice CAIP Research Series

Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice, Inquiries for Hope and Change

Creative Arts for Community and Cultural Change, Detselig Temeron Press, Calgary.
Creative Arts in Humane Medicine, Brush Education, dist. University of Toronto Press, 2014