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By Franke James for Megaphone Magazine
Photo of Teresa Pocock by Zack Embree

“Freedom” describes Teresa Pocock’s awakening as an artist and poet in the Downtown Eastside. When she draws, she is free. There is no filter. She doesn’t second guess herself or say her drawing isn’t “good enough”. She is confident. She lets whatever is on her mind come out, freely.

But the freedom to make her own decisions and choices—where she lives, what she does, and how she expresses herself—is new to her. Teresa has Down syndrome. It’s been very difficult for her to assert her rights and be her own person. For much of her life, she’s been wrapped in a cocoon, where other people made decisions for her. This was made evident in 2013, when Teresa was forced into a nursing home in Ontario at age 49.

Against her wishes, Teresa was placed in a long-term care home that specialized in dementia and palliative care. It was absolutely the wrong place for her. When Teresa said she didn’t want to live there, no one listened. Fortunately, Teresa’s father, a retired lawyer, was able to get her released after four days. The next day, Teresa came to live with me and my husband. Three months later, we moved from Ontario to British Columbia and eventually settled in Gastown in the Downtown Eastside.

Finding her voice
Settling in the Downtown Eastside turned out to be a great stroke of luck for Teresa and her budding career as an artist. She applied for a DTES Small Arts Grant to create an illustrated book about her new neighbourhood. The grant was approved in February, and Teresa got to work.

Over the next four months, Teresa created about 100 illustrations in large spiral-bound sketchbooks using vibrant hues of magic markers. She also wrote 10 poems for the book. My husband and I helped Teresa design and self-publish her book.

Pretty Amazing: How I Found Myself in the Downtown Eastside is a collection of Teresa’s art and poetry. In her opening poem, I Am Alive, she shares her upbeat philosophy on life: “Be nice to everyone.” And she says she feels “redeemed. Okay, I am reborn. In Gastown.”

Her natural ability to express herself through art is important. In her art and poetry, she can freely express her worries and her joys. Her poems reflect the dialogues she has with herself. Often, she takes on the role of her own parent, saying, “Please be nice to my daughter.” And she encourages herself: “You’re not afraid of those monsters. You have the power of attorney.” Her power of attorney document helped win her release from the nursing home. To this day, Teresa carries the updated document with her.

In her poem “The Schedule,” Teresa shows how she organizes her day. She carefully plans the times for her breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. She includes these detailed times in her drawings and often scratches the numbers out as the hours pass. We hear her sense of humour and wordplay when she writes, “We are quite a pair. Eat your pears at Nesters. I love Perrier.” When she reads the poem aloud she laughs at her own cleverness.

The unexpected
Teresa is enjoying her new identity as an artist and author. This past summer, she launched her book and art show at Gallery Gachet. And then something amazing happened. For almost three years now, Teresa has been asking the Ontario government to apologize. Her Change.org petition—Human Rights Should Never Be Disabled— garnered more than 26,000 signatures. Last month, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and seven other signatories sent a letter to the Ontario government stating, “We are gravely concerned that the government, through its actions, appears to condone the forced placement and mistreatment of developmentally disabled adults.”

The letter caught the attention of Christina Stevens at Global News, who did a story on Teresa. On July 22, Minister Eric Hoskins apologized to Teresa on Global News for “placing” her in a “seniors’ residence,” saying it was not appropriate. The apology was a welcome surprise, but the Global News story exposed the fact that Teresa is just one of thousands who have been deprived of their liberty, as 2,900-plus people in that province are living in such facilities.

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Teresa’s pretty amazing journey that brought her to the Downtown Eastside is still unfolding. She has just turned 52. She is now free to make her own decisions. Free to colour outside the lines. And free to make a difference for all people with disabilities simply by being who she is: a self-advocate and artist in the Downtown Eastside.

I AM ALIVE

Hello.
Be nice to everyone.
Look, I am alive.
You have to be nice.
I am doing fine.
Thank goodness.
I have to be nice to them.
And to the others.
That’s a brilliant idea!
You’re thinking.
And I’m thinking too.
I think we need to make a list of the things we need.
Right. I’m alive. Nesters. Flying Pig. Prado.
We love it here.
Everybody loves me.
You guys are alright, I know.
You guys, I am born. I am alive.
Redeemed.
Okay, I am reborn.
In Gastown

"I Am Alive" by Teresa Pocock on Vimeo.

Related Links:

“A Pretty Amazing Story”, Megaphone Magazine, September 2016

Global News: Ontario woman forced into long-term care wants apology from provincial government

Global News: More than 2,900 Ontarians with developmental disabilities live in long-term care facilities

BC Civil Liberties letter to the Ontario Government: Teresa Pocock’s forced admission to an Ontario long-term care home violated her human rights

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“I am alive! I am reborn in Gastown!” says author and artist Teresa Pocock.

Teresa is defying the “health care system” that wrongly labelled her “incapable” two years ago when she lived in Ontario.

In 2016, Teresa Pocock won a DTES Small Arts Grant to create her first book, Pretty Amazing: How I Found Myself in the Downtown Eastside. The book is now available on Amazon and in Kindle and Apple iBook formats. Teresa’s book launch and solo show took place on June 29 at Gallery Gachet, in Vancouver, B.C.

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Winning the arts grant inspired Teresa to focus on creating an illustrated book. Before that, she had never created a book. Or exhibited her art. Or shown people her poetry. Now, Teresa is a professional artist, poet and published author. Her achievements are impressive for anyone, regardless of I.Q. Her artistic voice is confident and bold.

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It’s a wonderful testament to her artistic ability,” said her sister Franke James. “The artwork is fun and engaging. It expresses her discovery of the Downtown Eastside. It expresses a love of her life.” Teresa creates her illustrations using magic markers on fine art paper. The 4ft x 5ft posters are digital reproductions of her art printed on flexible plastic sheets (just like bus shelter posters). The posters can be rolled and transported anywhere in the world — so she may one day have an international exhibition!

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Teresa stands in front of her Hastings and Abbott illustration and poem from her book, “Pretty Amazing: How I Found Myself in the Downtown Eastside“. Teresa has mapped out the neighbourhood as she sees it. Her favourite coffee shop is Prado. She shops for groceries at Nesters and Costco. She loves to visit Gallery Gachet, London Drugs, Top of Vancouver, Woodwards and the Flying Pig. From her home in Gastown, she watches the big cargo ships, like Hanjin, Hapag-Lloyd and Hyundai sailing into the Port of Vancouver. All of these elements combine to create her distinctive visual and poetic vocabulary.

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Pretty Amazing! The show drew a large and lively crowd. Supporters from Inclusion BC, Spectrum Society, PLAN Institute, the BC Humanist Association, All Bodies Dance, MP Jenny Kwan’s office, the City of Vancouver and Community Living BC all came out to see Teresa’s art.

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Discovering the Downtown Eastside:
Teresa draws inspiration from her surroundings. She can see the Vancouver Sun building and the Harbour Centre from her home in Gastown. Her poems originate from her self-talk. Teresa reads her poems aloud, and continues working on them until she’s happy with them.

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Art builds community:
Teresa has been participating in the weekly Expressive Arts workshop at Gallery Gachet where she has met other artists in the DTES, including Laurie (above). Having her own solo show at Gallery Gachet was a big step forward for her. She was able to show everyone her art, her poetry and her video, “I am Alive.”

Those Monsters by Teresa Pocock

Art is a healing tool. Teresa continues to feel the fallout from her experience of being forced into the nursing home. She expresses her worries in her art and “self-talk” poetry. Her poems reflect the dialogue she has with herself. Often, she takes on the role of her own parent saying, “Please be nice to my daughter.” In the poem, Those Monsters, she encourages herself, “you’re not afraid of those monsters. you have the power of attorney.” (Her power of attorney document helped win her release from the nursing home. to this day, Teresa carries the updated document with her wherever she goes.)

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The Schedule is a poem that reveals how Teresa organizes her day. She plans exactly when she’s going to have breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. Her drawings often incorporate numbers, which represent the times of the day. We hear her sense of humour and wordplay when she writes, “We are quite a pair. eat your pears at Nesters. I love Perrier.” When she recites the poem she laughs at her own cleverness.

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Teresa’s sister, Franke James, speaks with author Ted Kuntz about Teresa’s exuberant art.

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Gallery Gachet says “Art is a means for survival.” They have provided a supportive and very accepting community — exactly what Teresa needed to blossom as an artist and poet.

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Teresa stands in front of her illustration and poem, “We Love it Here”.

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Gallery visitors watched Teresa’s video, “I am Alive.”


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A local artist wrote in Teresa’s Pretty Amazing Guest book, “I’ve never seen anything like this!” Others commented on her wonderful use of colour and shape. Teresa has indeed found her voice in the Downtown Eastside. It is a voice that talks about feeling “butterflies”, but still finds the courage to fly. Teresa has, in her own words, been “reborn in Gastown”.

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The former secretary at Teresa’s Grade School in Ontario read about the show in the Vancouver Sun and dropped in. She wrote, “Wonderful to see all this artwork by Teresa. What a girl!”

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Our local MP, Jenny Kwan, gave Teresa a congratulatory certificate which recognized her “wonderful drawing, creativity and achievement.”

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Teresa gives special thanks to the Vancouver Foundation for the DTES Small Arts Grant that made her Pretty Amazing book and show possible!

Media about the show:

VANCOUVER SUN:
Artist with Down syndrome written off as ‘incapable’ blooms in the Downtown Eastside
THE PROVINCE:
Artist with Down syndrome written off as ‘incapable’ blooms in the Downtown Eastside
GLOBAL NEWS TV:
Artist with Down syndrome, called ‘incapable’ opens solo art show
BC BOOK LOOK:
Eastside Inspiration 

About the Artist/Author

Pretty Amazing Cover KindleTeresa Pocock is an artist and poet living in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. In 2016, she won a DTES Small Arts Grant from the Vancouver Foundation which enabled her to create her first book, Pretty Amazing: How I found myself in the Downtown Eastside. Teresa exhibited 18 “Pretty Amazing” artworks as 4ft x 5ft posters in her first solo show at Gallery Gachet which launched on June 29, and wrapped up on July 2.

As a self-advocate with Down syndrome, Teresa presented her story, I Love My Human Rights, at the 2016 Canadian Down Syndrome Conference in Montreal. Teresa is a member of the BC Civil Liberties Association, Gallery Gachet, Inclusion BC, Family Support Institute of BC, and the Canadian Down Syndrome Society. She loves chicken pie, word play and spotting the big boats in the Burrard Inlet.

Where to buy Teresa Pocock’s book:
Pretty Amazing: How I Found Myself in the Downtown Eastside is available on Amazon and in Kindle and Apple iBook formats.

Credits
Primary event photography: Zack Embree
Some additional photos by Franke James and Billiam James
Gallery Gachet: “Art is a means for survival.”

Republished under license from Postmedia
Franke James (left) gives sister Teresa Pocock a hug at Gallery Gachet, where Pocock is mounting an exhibit of her artwork. GERRY KAHRMANN / PNG

CHERYL CHAN
Published on: June 29, 2016

Barely three years ago, Teresa Pocock was written off as “incapable” and banished to an old-age care home to live out the rest of her life in an institutionalized setting.

Today she is a poet and artist with a solo exhibit at Gallery Gachet that runs until Saturday.

“It’s a wonderful testament to her artistic ability,” said sister Franke James. “The artwork is fun and engaging. It expresses her discovery of the Downtown Eastside. It expresses a love of her life.”

It’s a far cry from November 2013 when Pocock, who has Down syndrome, was placed in a nursing home in Toronto against her and her father’s wishes.

James remembers seeing her younger sister “sitting on a single bed with a thin sheet hanging between her and a roommate who cannot walk, talk or feed herself.”

She was only 49, healthy and able-bodied, yet was “surrounded by people whose next stop was the grave,” recalled James, an environmental activist and artist. “She was being robbed of her future. It just broke my heart.”

Pocock had been happily living in a condo with her father. But at 91, he was starting to show early signs of cognitive decline. A family feud erupted over Pocock’s future care.

An assessment by Ontario’s community care access centre — which James said was unlawfully conducted because it went against her sister’s power-of-attorney directives — deemed Pocock incapable of deciding where she wants to live. This despite assertions she did not want to live in a care home and James’s repeated statements Pocock could come live with her and her husband.

Pocock lived in the home for four days until her dad managed to get her out. She moved in with James and James’s husband Billiam. A few months later, the family moved to a condo in Gastown.

Since then, Pocock has thrived. She’s danced in front of the White House, watched a parade in New York, helped collect trash from shorelines, made new friends and, along with James, presented at conferences in Montreal and Prince George.

“The world has opened up for her,” said James. “None of this would have happened if she stayed in a long-term care home.”

Her artistic streak was a recent discovery. After winning a $1,000 arts grant from the Vancouver Foundation, Pocock began working on an illustrated book of poems called Pretty Amazing: How I Found Myself in the Downtown Eastside.

Those works and 18 large illustrations that depict her neighbourhood are on display at the gallery.

photography by Zack Embree

James said Pocock’s story is not an isolated case. Thousands of people with developmental disabilities are being placed in inappropriate homes, such as long-term care homes, without the proper supports for them.

An online petition, asking for an apology for Pocock from the Ontario government and the Toronto Community Care Access Centre for what she still refers to as her “danger day,” has collected more than 26,000 signatures.

James said she doesn’t blame her other siblings for what happened to Pocock, saying they couldn’t have put her in a long-term care home if the authorities didn’t enable it.

She recognized their actions and the government actions came from a well-meaning place. “They wanted to ensure Teresa has a safe place, a roof over her head and food in her belly all her life, and it was going to be paid for by the government,” she said.

“But it wasn’t what she wanted. It really shortchanged her and her life.”


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Material republished with the express permission of: Vancouver Sun, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.