Shelter from the Storm

Photo credit: Metro News Calgary

Article by Janet Hails, Calgary Foundation 

A musical Soul of the City

Sled Island was building up nearby, voices and stories surged from the sixth floor of the Drop In Centre –where, just a year ago, water flowed over and wreaked havoc on the city. Although we were a captive audience, you could certainly feel the energy in the air.

There was a buzz in the hallway where musicians, poets and newly emerging artists merged together to embrace the excitement of how music builds a community. Behind the scenes, DI staff and volunteers worked diligently to set the stage and welcome a packed house. At 7:30 pm, Michael F. took centre stage and challenged the audience members to chat with neighbours on how music has influenced their lives. He claimed this project, Shelter from the Storm, emerged from seeds planted last September. He began the night singing Bob Dylan's Shelter from the Storm and the lyrics showed why this name fit the initiative. The Calgary Foundation provided a $5,000 Neighbour Grant to help produce a short documentary of a DI project where street-involved people work with a local musician to create songs from their experience, and the DI plans to make a larger documentary to submit to film festivals across the world. 

DI volunteers and staff had a feeling that music could serve as a means to capture client stories and possibly boost awareness of issues the clients face each day. After many grant applications and through fortuitous events, the DI acquired Kris Demeanor as an Artist in Residence to help DI clients dig deep and transform their experiences into music. 

The audience cheered with a standing ovation when DI Adult Care Workers stepped up on the stage to reveal their passion and conviction for the DI clients that would make Canadian slam poet Shane Koyczan proud. It takes guts for people to step up and tell their own story - especially when they have faced things like finding a a life a dime at a time and having to live in a home where you have 1,200 neighbours in your space.

A young tattooed man, made way to the stage and rapped about his life where his friends shouted out in support as if he was Eminem. Staff, volunteers and the SFTS crew nodded their heads in time with the beat, and he beamed and smiled like an eight-year-old when his story wrapped up. A rocker, who swore he would never return to the DI – he’s sober now – stepped into the limelight and brought a fully developed musical score with the hopes that he could help lift the spirit of SFTS clients and honour how DI has helped him live a clean life and get back on track. 

The buzz after the event transformed into a full-blown roar. With the beaming smiles and accolades given, I imagine the SFTS folks will pursue further sessions and soon, record and produce an album. This musical outlet has given a new sense of purpose by triggering confidence and self-respect for DI clients whose only world has been the street, and perhaps life will be a little different for them now.