Liz Fitzpatrick and Nina Garacci, two recent University of Ottawa graduates currently working in the restaurant world, began their summer wanting to undertake an ambitious social project. “We wanted to do something good for the community, something nourishing to the soul,” says Fitzpatrick. “We wanted more than just our industry gig.”
The pair took inspiration from last year’s Cafe Art MyLondon Photography Contest, in which organizers passed out disposable cameras at St. Paul’s Cathedral and then curated the favourites into a printed calendar. Fitzpatrick and Garacci approached the organizers for their guidance and, more importantly, their blessing to not affiliate InFocus with the MyLondon project. “We wanted to go about it a bit differently,” Fitzpatrick explains. “We wanted to show others that you don’t have to be part of an existing organization to make this kind of change.”
The first step? Ordering $400 worth of disposable cameras online. They packaged the cameras up with notebooks, pencils and information on the project, then went about distributing them to individuals affected by precarious housing. The strategy was to walk around the city and strike up conversation.
“We were a little naive about it at first,” says Fitzpatrick. “We didn’t realize how long it takes to build trust and really connect with someone.” It was also a chance for the women to recognize their own privilege in being able to produce the project as individuals not experiencing homelessness. “Any negative reaction we encountered was because it was just two privileged white girls. And it was interesting to have those conversations.” Still, they found plenty of participants was there and they were able to give out nearly all of their cameras.
“The first batch we developed was really thrilling,” says Garacci. “Every single person’s film was different. So many angles, and no single theme either.” The final batch was just developed this week, and now the two are working with the participants to curate the photos for the exhibition. The most important element, they both agree, is that the participants themselves have a say in what photos are used.
The whole project will culminate in a gala exhibition on September 3 at Studio Sixty Six from 7-11 pm. The participants and the community are invited to mingle and view the art, as well as start conversations about the effect of precarious housing. “The purpose of it is to get everyone interacting in one room, and break down those social barriers. I think by having those conversations that’s how we’ll really make a difference,” says Garacci.
The participants and the community are invited to mingle and view the art, as well as start conversations about the effect of precarious housing.
The two also have a Kickstarter campaign underway, which runs until August 10. They hope to recoup the costs of funding the project thus far, but above all, they hope to surpass their $7000 goal so that they can use the additional money to purchase art supplies and donate it to Centre 454. Says Garacci: “We really want to give back to the community in an artistic way.”