Providing a safe space for storytelling

The feeling of seeing your art in print, the weight of it in your hands, the paper, the fresh-print scent, and the soft creak of the book’s new spine. This joy is what the Downtown Story Collective is hoping to give to its contributors with its ongoing Indiegogo campaign, active until Nov. 16.

The Downtown Story Collective (DSC), as stated on its Indiegogo campaign page, “provides a safe space where artists who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness, poverty, or other barriers can come together to tell our stories and take leadership in our artistic process.” The collective provides resources for artists and photographers to create the art they’ve always wanted to make.

DSC’s creators, Julia Rose Kochuk and Blythe Hutchcroft, first started talking about the creation of this book when Kochuk was working a communications job at the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, and Hutchcroft was working a similar job at Our Place Society next door. “We were the storytellers of their lives, which seemed a little backwards,” says Hutchcroft, of her and Rose’s jobs as communications staff. “So we wanted to start something that was more empowering.”

Kochuk and Hutchcroft started pitching the idea to the people they had met that spent time at Our Place, and says Hutchcroft, “people started responding really well.” It wasn’t long before the weekly Tuesday meeting became the supportive art collective it is now.

“We had a little leadership group of a couple of artists that we knew, and we built it together,” says Kochuk. “It always centred around being a collective.”

“There’s a really unhealthy perception out there,” says Hutchcroft, “that we need to be a voice for people with less power just because we are people of privilege, or because we have the tools to tell the stories that other people might not, and that’s a ridiculous idea.” Through the success they’ve seen with the group, Hutchcroft says, “we’ve proven that that’s really backwards. Every person or community is more than capable to tell their own story.”

Kochuk and Hutchcroft have now moved to Vancouver, but they’re not worried about the future of the collective. As Kochuk points out, “It’s still there, and it’s going to evolve in whatever way it needs to.” New volunteers that were familiar with it have stepped forward, and the collective continues to grow. Kochuk and Hutchcroft want the Downtown Story Collective to be sustainable for as long as it’s needed.

The sum they want to crowd-fund is to produce a chapbook with the University of Victoria’s Espresso Book Machine. Each contributor will, if the crowd-funding is successful, get 10 copies of the book that they may sell, keep, or give-away. Any leftover support will help the collective get new art supplies to continue to provide its patrons with the tools they need.

The DSC meets every Tuesday night at Our Place Society, and members’ work will be showcased at a book launch on Nov. 30 at Dales Gallery, 537 Fisgard St.

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