awareness dialogue and action

Burlington, Vermont, on the shores of Lake Champlain, has all the makings of an ideal tourist town. The lakeside ferry terminal, marina and arts centre anchor the water front firmly to city life.

Burlington, Vermont, on the shores of Lake Champlain, has all the makings of an ideal tourist town.

The lakeside ferry terminal, marina and arts centre anchor the water front firmly to city life.

A meal at a restaurant on a floating dock surrounded by the lake on a warm, sunny evening in late August defined the idea of ‘vacation’ for my wife and me.

A short climb back up a gentle hill brought us to Church Street.

The red bricks of late 19th century buildings added warmth and atmosphere to its pedestrian mall lined with cafes, bistros and art galleries. The car-free main street stretches for blocks through the city core.

Sandwiched between it and City Hall Park is an old, narrow, reconverted building; the Burlington City Arts’ Firehouse Centre.

Luckily during our visit a couple of months back, an opening reception of a new exhibit was being held. We wandered through the first floor exhibition hall of the four storey building jammed with people balancing hors d’oeuvre plates and wine glasses. 24 individuals had their works on display.

Exhibits such as a small one-room house set up just outside the backdoor in the park were designed to provoke thought.

The compact house challenged the society’s current emphasis on trophy housing with a radically energy self-sufficient, mortgage free, environmentally low impact concept home. Rows of one litre plastic car oil containers with faces of cultural icons molded into them, lined one wall facing a video display of Theo Jansen’s large, fanciful, human powered walking machines and wind-powered sculptures called Standbeest.

All blurred the distinction between artist, architect, engineer, scientist and citizen. They all were focussed around one concept; what is a carbon-constrained world going to look like?

The exhibition, titled Human=Landscape, transformed the Firehouse into a venue for reimagining the future not only of Vermont but of all of North America. The self avowed goal of the project aimed to “inspire a community dialogue about Vermont’s energy choices, through the lens of science and art.”

Awareness leads to dialogue which leads to action. This rather simple social equation clearly marks out the strategy of the organizers of the Human=Landscape exhibit. It pretty well captures the approach of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition’s Poverty and Homelessness Action Week as well.

Challenging public figures to couch surf last week or live in a van in front of the Elijah Smith Building on Main Street this week all sought to more broadly raise community awareness of homelessness. On Wednesday Dr. Bernie Pauly of the University of Victoria School of Nursing built on this. She gave a YAPC sponsored slide presentation entitled Finding A Home: How Do We Get There?

Pauly laid out the facts. Up to 300,000 people in Canada right now are homeless. Estimates show this figure growing at a rate possibly as high as 20 per cent a year.

Women, kids and aboriginal people increasingly find themselves in the ranks of the homeless. On average people forced out onto the street die 20 to 25 years earlier than the rest of us.

Pauly’s presentation aimed at provoking a broader dialogue. She quoted Art Manuel, a housing activist with Seaton house in Toronto, “Housing is not the answer, but without housing there is no answer.”

The question of poverty requires action. Whether or not Yukon Health and Social Services Minister Glenn Hart’s announcement of the development of a territorial social-inclusion strategy results in anything really depends on our response to a call to action based on awareness and dialogue.

Namaste notes

Saturday, October 17 – Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, symbolizes the human desire to move toward the light. It is also the Jain celebration of Lord Mahavira’s day of final liberation.

Saturday, October 17 – International Day for the Eradication of Poverty’s theme this year is “Investments in children and the realization of their rights are among the most effective ways to eradicate poverty.”

Sunday, October 18 – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. A suggested reading is Mark 10: 35-45.

Tuesday, October 20 – The Bab’s birth is honoured by Baha’i. He is forerunner of the Baha’i faith.

Tuesday, October 20 – Installation of Sikh Scriptures, the Adi Granth, is honoured as the perpetual Guru.