Jenn McGarrigle, Jun. 23, 2011, Entertainment
Valerie Alia has driven to an arts venue on more than one occasion with the intention of taking in a show, only to turn around and drive home because she couldn’t get herself to the door. Alia, a writer/photographer and Nanaimo Arts Council board member, has had two hip replacement surgeries and walks with a cane. “When I walk any distance, I actually use two canes,” she said. And while most places have disabled parking stalls, sometimes this doesn’t get her close enough to the venue or she’s still faced with ascending or descending stairs – a feat that is beyond her some days. Frustrated by her access issues, when the council executive was discussing what to do with funding from the B.C. Arts Council for an arts-based community development project, she suggested the theme of accessibility in Nanaimo. The result is a documentary film – Opening Doors – that premiers Monday (June 27) at the Port Theatre. Filmmaker Paul Manly, along with artists Pam Edgar (singer/songwriter/broadcaster), Dax Cushman (broadcaster/filmmaker) Remy Chartier (writer/sound editor) and Alia, created the 30-minute film, in which the four artists, who have a range of disabilities, discuss challenges they face in accessing the community when they are working and how they deal with these challenges. They also interview other artists and venue managers about what is being done to improve access to their facilities. “If you really want to make your place better, the best thing is to ask somebody who has challenges using it,” said Alia. “It isn’t always about spending money because these are hard times. It’s changing who gets what space.” The film screening will be followed by discussion between the audience and artists. “We’re calling it a premiere and community conversation,” said Alia, adding that the group hopes it will lead to future conversations and screenings of the film amongst community groups. Odette Laramee, arts council manager, said she suggested using film as the medium for the project because of the potential outreach possibilities. She hopes the project will have both short term and long term impacts. “I would like to see one or two very concrete changes in the city, but also that there be ongoing community discussion,” said Laramee. Edgar said the film is about raising awareness. “We’re aging and we’ve got more people living with disabilities in our community than the speed of the change,” she said. “It is a bigger issue than most people are aware of.” The event starts at 7 p.m. and admission is free. Tea and coffee will be served and audience seating will be on the stage. For more information, please call 250-619-0331 or visit www.nanaimoartscouncil.ca.