Inside a cupboard at NightShift Street Ministries is a colourful and abundant assortment of felt pens, crayons, paints, paper, stickers, wool, fabrics and other art supplies. Every Tuesday at 5:30 pm, the cupboard is opened, to the delight of a room full of people, most of whom are eager to create an artistic treasure, while others are happy to just be in the presence of others creating art. This is NightShift’s Art Class, and all who come here feel comfortable, safe and welcomed. It is a fun and often healing respite for the group – any of whom might be struggling with poverty, homelessness, addiction, mental or physical illness.
A sacred space
Art Class was created about five years ago by Maggie Callander, a dedicated NightShift volunteer who is also a professional counsellor at Delview School in North Delta. Her love of art, counselling and helping vulnerable people culminated in Art Class, which also became the topic of her Masters’ thesis, about creating sacred spaces. “I couldn’t understand, why are people coming back? Why do people walk through all kinds of weather, when sometimes they can barely walk, and yet they make it to Art Class?” Maggie says.
That question was best answered by the participants of the class, who range in number every week from a dozen to 20 people. “Just last week (Art Class attendee) Alberta Jim told me, ‘Maggie, this class keeps me alive.’ Other people have been saying the same thing. It’s the thing they look forward to in the middle of the week.”
Art Class assets
Grace is an area resident who comes to Art Class every week, in spite of significant health challenges that sometimes makes mobility difficult. She moved to Surrey from Vancouver a few years ago, battling to get free of addiction and overcome the abuse she suffered as a child. “I was lonely, hungry and just needed people,” shares Grace, while working on a collage poster at Art Class. “I get friendship, and tea. Art Class to me is life. Doing art with people, painting, and sharing our work, it helps your heart. It brings out the goodness in everybody.”
The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness at York University recognizes that art can be used to address issues surrounding homelessness. It can help foster healing and recovery for those who have experienced trauma, build social supports and help vulnerable people amplify their own voice. Maggie has seen these benefits at NightShift’s Art Class: “We have everything from colouring pages, which helps relieve anxiety, to the ability to create something they’re proud of. Art allows somebody to communicate beyond words.”
Maggie remembers in the first weeks of Art Class, a woman came in who was struggling with HIV and heroin addiction. She created the class’s very first painting – and the result was surprising. “It was this beautiful flower,” recalls Maggie. “She said, ‘well, I had a good day – I got good news from the doctor.’ Then she gave me the painting … she went out the door and we never saw her again. I still have the painting.”
Art Class participants have even done their part to beautify the surrounding neighbourhood of Whalley. Just a few years ago, a class team went down the street and painted a Christmas scene on the window of the old KFC restaurant. They won $200 for their excellent work, which was donated back to NightShift.
Maggie runs Art Class with at least two volunteers, from whom she requires only one thing. “They have to unconditionally love everyone who comes in the door. We shake their hand and get them a hot drink, and toiletries if they need them. People don’t feel ashamed at Art Class. Life is up and down, but they can come in here and feel totally, 100 per cent accepted.”
Art Class is every Tuesday in NightShift’s Education Room, from 5:30 to 7 pm.