Healing art: I Am Here

Still of Allan Griffin a River Stone Participant that wrote his poem 'Where I am From' to be used in the back his postcard. (Daniel Salas/AQ)

When Sarah Davidson, the medical director at River Stone Recovery Centre, reached out to local artist Lisa Anne Ross, she had one goal – to create a project that would spark compassion for the clients at the recovery center. 

Still of Dr. Sara Davidson Medical Director of River Stone Recovery Centre, and one of the members that came up with the idea of ‘I am Here.’ (Daniel Salas/AQ)

Ross researched the stigma around drug use and came up with a creative angle to humanize Davidson’s clients. In collaboration with photographer Kelly Baker, she created “I am Here: Postcards from the Edge.” 

On Nov. 16, the project finally saw the light at the Fredericton Public Library in an exhibit that Ross said “raises awareness and generates a sort of connection between people.” The postcards have portraits of River Stone Recovery Centre’s customers against a white background, bringing their faces to the center of the frame, while the back features a poem written by them expressing who they are and where they are from. 

“When people who normally don’t have a voice in society get to share their stories publicly, generally, the response of the community is that it changes how we see each other,” she said. 

Still of Kelly Baker, the photographer in charge of doing the portraits for the postcards, presenting some of the other people that participated on this protect to the attendees of the inauguration at the Fredericton Public Library. (Daniel Salas/AQ)

Opened in July 2020, the River Stone Recovery Centre is a clinic in downtown Fredericton providing different services to people with substance use disorder. These include oral therapies such as suboxone or methadone, stimulant replacement, therapy, injectable opioid agonist treatment and housing support.

The center was born out of necessity due to the opioid overdose crisis. According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, there have been over 34,400 apparent opioid toxicity deaths between January 2016 and September 2022. 

Related: Understanding harm reduction: River Stone Recovery Centre

Ross knew about River Stone Recovery Centre as a community space for harm reduction, so when she was approached by Davidson, she accepted. 

“They asked me to create and conceive a project that will foster more empathy and compassion in the community,” she said. “I would love to do this.”

Still of Lisa Ross, one of the organizers and staff of the River Stone Recovery Centre that was part of starting the ‘I am Here’ Project. (Daniel Salas/AQ)

While Baker handled the portraits, Ross met weekly with some of the volunteer participants and helped them with their poems. As the artistic producer of Solo Chicken Productions, she encouraged individuals to express themselves and write their poems together. 

“We could talk and then they’d go away and write them and come back. For other people, to work best, we started by having a personal conversation with me so I would ask them questions about their lives.”

She said she was there to facilitate the process of ideas and help them put them together into poetry. 

Ross said with this project she learned something new.

“I like to get to know my neighbours,” she said. “I hope those postcards grow in people … to expand who they think of as the people, their neighbours, their community. To change how they think about some of the folks at the center, to think of them in a more holistic way as people and not just a stereotype or static.” 

Still depicting the design on the backs of the postcards that were free for the public during its inauguration event. (Daniel Salas/AQ)

One of the poems, written by someone simply identified as Vicky, expressed their love for their children and their determination amidst trying times. 

“I am from a dream of accepting what life has dealt me. Of being ok with whatever comes next. I am from two pickles and four on the side,” read Vicky’s poem. 

The beginning of the i am Here’ postcards project by the River Stone Recovery Centre and Solo Chicken Productions, held at the Fredericton Public Library this past Thursdays, November 16, 2023. (Daniel Salas/AQ)

Ross said these postcards will be distributed to the community, specifically in the downtown area. She added this project fostered a new sense of accomplishment.

“Art is a key part of the healing process for people or it can be a great tool in the healing process,” said Ross. “I hope in some small way, it is a stone on their path to healing and whatever that looks like for them.”