Every Monday, University of Western Ontario master of Fine Arts student Jeremy Jeresky finds himself in downtown London offering those whose voices are largely silent in society new ways to see and express themselves.
Masters of Fine Arts student Jeremy Jeresky says the community-based art program at London’s Ark Aid Mission acts as a social space, which creatively facilitates dialogue and sociability.
As someone who readily admits to “diving into stuff,” the Calgary native wanted to take his love of combining art and social awareness outside the norms of what one would expect an artist to do.
Setting out to document the lives and stories of the clients of London’s Ark Aid Mission for a possible project surrounding their concept of community, Jeresky’s plans took a unique turn.
“I have always been interested in socially engaged work, with homelessness or the working poor. I always wanted to know what and why it existed,” says Jeresky, who wanted to learn more about the Dundas Street mission.
Jeresky and others felt it would be best to built up relationships with mission clients before beginning his project. And what better way, he thought, than through art.
“I realized that it could be a great way to establish a social statement and that my focus should be on creating this focal space where they can create and be around like-minded creative people,” he says. “There’s more to art-making than one being in the studio and getting away from everyone.”
So with the help of a large plastic sheet and a pool table, the studio has been coming alive each week (1:30-3:30 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.) since The Ark Creative Concept (TACC) began back in early January.
“It’s more than just the artwork, it’s the process involved,” says Jeresky, adding TACC was perhaps thought up as a way to build bridges within the community through art.
“This is great way to start a dialogue. It may be a small gesture, but it’s a beginning. It’s a way to say we can all participate in this community; we can all be a part of the cultural production of the community.”
While organizing and facilitating the program – and occasionally offering some advice – for the most part Jeresky steps back and lets participants create on their own.
“It’s an open studio where folks come in and do their thing and learn new ways to make art,” he says, adding staff has noticed changes in the clients. “There are a lot of people in the program who love creating work.”
Doug Whitelaw, executive director of the Ark Aid Mission, says the mission is re-building and open to new ideas.
“I thought his ideas were unique and that we could perhaps pioneer something new, facilitating our clientele to express their story and experiences – which are often over-looked – but are important about what they say about our city and society,” says Whitelaw. “People who we often look past when we meet them on the street could perhaps begin to be seen as gifted, valuable neighbours.”
Whitelaw adds he was surprised so many people wanted to work with Jeresky.
“There seemed to be a latent hunger for artist self-expression,” he says. “We have seen people come out of themselves, take pride in something they have done, and look forward to something. We are very pleased at what we have witnessed thus far in the value and meaning added to people’s lives.
“Our clientele should not be invisible, nameless or voiceless. They have powerful, moving, sometimes heart-breaking stories and often those stories challenge our comfortable, middle-class, materialistic assumptions. It is important to understand and remember real people will be affected by pushing them further out to the margins. I hope our art project will help our city understand that story, too.”
The program is sustained through community donations and Jeresky is always looking for others to get involved. Consequently, artwork from the program goes out to those who donate.
“These can act as conversation pieces, a catalyst to generate discussions about where art comes from and how,” he says.
Jeresky hopes the program will flourish beyond his graduation in 2011 and that a stronger understanding of the need for socially engaging artwork is sustained.
“My motivation comes from an assertion that art-making really should and can be open to anybody.”