As a child James Harry watched his father, master carver Rick Harry, sculpt beautiful Aboriginal carvings from wood and metal, but not all youth have the opportunity to be introduced to art in the home.

As an adult, James took up his father’s craft and started working with Vancouver School Board to engage with youth across the city through art. Most recently, he has worked as an artist-in-residence at the new Britannia Carving Pavilion.

Britannia Carving Pavilion connects Aboriginal youth to art

The Carving Pavilion was launched to be a community centre for dialogue and a hub for local Aboriginal art makers interested in connecting with youth at the Britannia Community Services Centre. The Pavilion’s artist-in-residence program allows art makers like James to introduce youth to Aboriginal art and culture.

“It’s important to have artmaking methods brought together in an official space so youth can come in and see those activities,” said James.

Connecting urban Aboriginal youth with art, culture and the wider Aboriginal community is what makes the Britannia Carving Pavilion a unique space in the heart of East Vancouver.

Central City Foundation donors support projects that encourage Aboriginal youth to engage with their community. CCF donors were a key funder for the construction of the Pavilion, which was also supported by the Britannia Community Services Centre Society, the Vancouver School Board and the City of Vancouver.

“It was very difficult to find capital funding for this project and Central City was incredibly helpful in not making it a barrier,” said Cynthia Low, Executive Director of Britannia Community Services Centre. “It’s very difficult to find capital to fund projects in the city, especially for projects that are not as tangible as building a school or house. What we’re doing with the Britannia Carving Pavilion is building something that feeds the spiritual soul and creates belonging.”

The Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood has the highest concentration of Aboriginal families in all of Vancouver, many of whom face challenges with trauma, social marginalization, addiction and low graduation rates.

Britannia Carving Pavilion connects Aboriginal youth to art

In 2012 there was deep concern surrounding a group of mostly Aboriginal youth in the Grandview-Woodland area, many between the ages 12 and 15. The youth were guided to appropriate care providers, but the incident opened up a wider conversation about what steps the community needed to take to ensure Aboriginal children had a strong sense of belonging.

Research shows that a connection to family, school and community is the best way to build resilience in youth and the carving pavilion was constructed as place to build community spirit and symbolize unity.

“The pavilion is a commitment to the students and the children of the district to highlight the achievements and contributions of First Nations to this area, but to also to support and invest in the future of our community,” says Low.

To James, the pavilion is an opportunity to literally open the door to youth who may be looking for a place to belong.

“The interesting thing about it is that even if the door is just slightly open, people will come in and see what’s happening in here,” said James.