This new project is bringing art and design to Edmonton’s most vulnerable

A new program is allowing people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton to wear their art.

The screen printing program is a drop-in activity at Boyle Street Community Services that runs every two weeks in their downtown Community Centre.

“There’s empowerment in them getting a chance to see their art utilized,” said Desiree Marcotte, drop-in program co-ordinator at the centre.

Marcotte started the program with local artist Travis Salty at the end of August.

“Giving them that opportunity to see their artwork in action, see it being valued and celebrated amongst the community that they belong to, it’s been really impactful,” said Marcotte.

The people’s print project

They take over a corner of the downtown community centre’s main room, with a folding table and a plastic sheet.

Stacks of donated shirts and hoodies stand ready, and Marcotte has partnered with the Society of Northern Alberta Print Artists – or SNAP – for supplies. 

Marcotte and Salty bring their own designs — but have encouraged the community at Boyle Street to contribute their own art.

Garry Ennow has attended a few of these workshops and designed one of the images on the latest screen. 

“It takes a lot of time,” said Ennow. “It’s good, I like to see a lot of great art.” 

Marcotte and Salty navigate a growing crowd during workshops, as more people watch the printing process and ask to make their own shirts.

“For a lot of folks who are ‘too cool’ for the arts and crafts stuff – this is more technical,” said Marcotte. “It tends to draw in a broader range of people.” 

The designs are printed and quickly blown dry so the artists walk away with their creation. It’s an immediate result that really works, she said. 

As someone who grew up in the foster care system and has been unhoused at times, Marcotte knows first hand the impact programs like this can have. 

“It plants seeds in people’s minds, that maybe they can do more, maybe they can be more.”

Three people stand around a table. One man pulls a squeegee across a screen while the other two hold it down.
Travis Salty (left), and Desiree Marcotte (right) help a member of the Boyle Street community print a design onto a donated hoodie at the downtown Community Centre. The screen printing workshops offer an artistic opportunity for people experiencing homelessness, to design and print their own shirts and hoodies (John Zazula/CBC)

Throughout the workshop more people enter and stand around watching the process. Many are wearing pieces made at workshops from weeks prior.

Mary-Joe Dion has been in Edmonton since 2015, and is an artist. She’s been taking part in these workshops and many others offered through social agencies across the city to practice her art.

“I make it for other people, I don’t make it for myself.”

Salty and Marcotte use many of their own designs, alongside the art made by the community. For the volunteers it’s as much about people who join in as it is about the art. 

“It builds community,” said Salty. “It turns into a hang where people share ideas and laugh and hang out together.”

“To make friends here in this community, I feel really lucky.”

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