Last year, Pamela Lewis had a vision for an Inside Out Project Group Action for the coastal community of Southern Vancouver Island. Months later, that vision met the efforts of she and a small group of others, who convened a Community for a Clean Coast to create a public art installation spanning the length of the Ogden Point Breakwater that sits at the head of Victoria's Inner Harbour. In a very real way, that day, that installation and that Community formed the beginning of the Cascadia Story Project and our #100daysoffacingthecoast.
I returned with Pam to the Breakwater yesterday evening to ask her about where the idea came from, how it felt to see it become a reality, and where it's taken her from there.
"Last year, I was going through a divorce and had been spending a lot of time down at the ocean, either on the beach or in the ocean itself, surfing or paddleboarding. I found myself feeling so grateful for the lessons that it was teaching me about letting go, and really appreciating the beauty that was around me. Then, I attended a weeklong retreat down in San Diego led by Thich Nhat Hanh, who delivered these two hour Dharma talks a lot of which was about how to be gentle with yourself and gentle with the environment. And also, about looking around, about really seeing the people around you, seeing your environment and seeing yourself. I came back from that retreat feeling like I wanted to do something, feeling motivated to do something that would express my gratitude to the ocean. I remember chatting with a friend one day when I got back from the workshop, asking her, “What am I going to do?" I’d been following JR for a while on Instagram, but then that same night someone sent me his Talk about the Inside Out Project and I thought, “Well, that’s it; that’s what I’m going to do.” So I met with an artist friend who lives down at Fisherman's Wharf and asked, “Do you think this is a crazy idea? ” and she said, “No, it’s a great idea; we can do it.” To which I said, “But I'm not a photographer, and I'm not this, and I’m not that..." And then I just thought, “Ah, who cares. Let’s just do it, even if we only get a couple of people to take part.” And then things just unfolded from there into what became the Inside Out Project - Victoria and Community for a Clean Coast.
On the day of the installation the feeling for me was joyfulness. To see everyone there and participating in something that only a year before had been just a thought, to see it turned into a reality was really big. Throughout the project there had been over a couple hundred people that had offered their portrait to the project, or their skill to help make it happen. On the day itself we had 50 or more people that came down to make it happen and what I loved was that it was a totally diverse group of people - there were people from Surfrider and other really passionate watersports people, but then there were also people that...I remember this one woman who was on her scooter. She couldn't walk, but on the day she was delivering all the glue in buckets up and down the Breakwater, and she just having a riot, loving it. Some of my clients from my work at Community Mental Health came down that day and they couldn’t actually do the poster pasting, but they went for a walk and a couple months later they gave me a framed photo of them down there on the day, which was really meaningful because I know a lot of those people are in their 60s and 70s, often feel isolated, and on that day they felt connected to a larger community. It was great in that it brought together different groups of people.
The feedback I heard from people was that most felt a sense of connection - connection to the ocean, yes, but people also felt connected to one another, and they felt a sense of accomplishment. I don't know what the experience was for everyone, but I know certainly for some of the younger kids involved - there were 8-year-olds and 10-year-olds - they just loved the whole process of working together to paste the posters onto the walkway and felt a real sense of accomplishment. For some of the older clients that I work with, they felt really connected. So, connection and fun - I’d say those were the two key words from the day.
Me, I felt a real sense of empowerment. And gratitude. That something that had been just an idea, when nurtured, could come to fruition, and in a way that I hadn't imagined. I'd been involved in lots of different projects in places like India and Peru, but this was something that was very close to my heart and I felt so much gratitude to see it come to fruition.
I've always felt a sense of place...felt that my place in the world is Victoria. Whenever I've lived anywhere else I’ve always felt rooted to here. But this took that to a deeper level where it's almost a sense of...I know you can't own something in the environment...but a stronger sense of stewardship. That's what I came away with: a stronger sense that I’m responsible for making sure that this part of the coast - not all of the ocean - this is what I can do for that little stretch of Dallas Road near where I grew up.
Through the project I came into contact with a lot of people who do incredible work on the coast, so I learned a lot. Folks like Gillian from Surfrider - they do a ton, and they’re doing amazing work. So I realized how much more I could be doing, comparatively. So part of the experience was one of being humbled by how much people can accomplish when they have that sense of ownership and stewardship. There are a lot of people working quietly and really hard and it leads me to reflect at times that there are some areas in which I fall short, that I could be a better steward. But this is what I can do. And for me, a lot of that is just taking my boys out and spending time with the ocean. We try to go up to Tofino, I try to take them to Jordan River, just to spend time by the ocean so that they get that sense that this is a part of them and have it develop who they are as people. And if they pick up some garbage and plastic when we’re out there, that's where I feel like I can make a difference, by helping to instill that ownership, and those behaviours."