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City, community partners running street level arts program in downtown Vancouver park

The park lies near the DTES, a school and new high-rise condos.
Elder Les Nelson (centre right in red t-shirt) and artist Sylvan Hamburger (right) show how a print is made.

A program trying to connect people through art will be running until mid-September in Andy Livingstone Park.

The park, located at 89 Expo Blvd., sits on the edge of the Downtown Eastside, adjacent to high-rise condos and an elementary school. The Our Park Project aims at bringing the diverse communities together with art as the common ground. Free arts gatherings focusing on things like drawing and screen printing are held twice a week to bring people together.

"We aim to engage, build connection, foster care and safety, and bridge the diverse communities who use Andy Livingstone Park by engaging individuals in community-based art events," state the organizers on their Facebook page.

De-stigmatizing perceptions in the community and connecting residents who use the park is a developing issue, as the area has seen a lot of change in the last five years.

"As one of the only accessible open green spaces in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, it is also a place where drinking and drug use happens, and the impacts of the overdose crisis are keenly felt," reads a press release. "Our  Park is welcoming to people who use drugs, are precariously housed, local residents and workers, school families, and community-based organizations."

Leading the project is Les Nelson, the Carnegie Community Centre's first Elder in Residence, along with artist Sylvan Hamburger. Supporting the project are the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS), the Vancouver parks board, the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health. It's funded through the Community Action Initiative. It's guided by local volunteers.

"Elder Les and Sylvan will work closely with the  Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Outreach Team to provide harm reduction supplies, food, hydration and community connection as folks make art together," states the release. "This ‘harm reduction through the arts’ initiative aims to reduce stigma related to substance use and to support connection and resilience in the communities that use Andy Livingstone Park."

Starting in July the project has had arts events in the park, including screen printing and drawing. All events are free to the public. They'll continue every Wednesday and Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. until Sept. 12. As time marches on, more art will be added to the park.