By Neale McDevitt
Most people don’t associate the word “vernissage” with homelessness, mental illness or addiction. But every one of the 30 or so pieces of art that will be on display at the “Briser L’indifference” vernissage on Feb. 4, at the Centre St-Pierre has been created by someone dealing with at least one such issue.
The 15 artists who will be showing their work are all members of the St. James Drop-In Centre, an organization situated in the heart of downtown, where many of the city’s most marginalized people can get the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing.
But St. James also offers progressive programs of art, music and poetry where members can express their thoughts and experiences through various creative outlets.
“Art is great therapy for our members,” said Danica Straith, Art Studio Co-ordinator, who graduated from McGill with a BA in International Development Studies this past spring. “This gives them the chance to express things that aren’t clear or that don’t make sense.
“Some guys say they do art strictly to maintain themselves. They are manic-depressive or schizophrenic and they have so much going on in their head and they use art just to try and keep things linear and to make sense of it all. They work through life by creating.”
Contrary to what people might think, given the circumstances of the artists, the majority of the paintings are not dark in either subject matter or style. “The paintings are very colourful, very beautiful,” said Straith. “I was talking to some of the artists and they said they are trying to overcome darkness so they create beauty. Colour is a big thing for them.”
But Straith says the art program offers more than just a place where people can express their creativity. “Just the other day, there were five of us sitting around the table working on pieces and talking about depression and homelessness,” she said. “It’s a great place to interact for guys who don’t do a whole lot of interacting during the day. They need this.”
Briser L’indifference vernissage, Feb. 4, from 5-7 at the Centre St-Pierre (1212 rue Panet).
Wine and cheese will be served. The art will be on display from Feb. 1-28. The artwork will also be on sale with 50 per cent of the proceeds going to the artists. For more information on the St. James Drop-In Centre go to www.stjamescentre.ca