The Neighbours Project

December 9th, 2023 – February 18th, 2024

Installation of The Neighbours Project at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 2023. Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid.

The Robert McLaughlin Gallery believes we have a responsibility to participate in the creation and maintenance of a healthy community. For over a year, we have been working with community members and partners on an initiative called The Neighbours Project. The goal was to explore how we could extend care to some of our closest neighbours who have experience with housing precarity or homelessness, including those working to reduce barriers to services and offer direct support.

In this phase of The Neighbours Project, we have created an installation that transforms the gallery into an active workshop space. It is a place to rest, make, reflect, and dream up better systems of care. The Neighbours Project aims to support creative community development through art-making experiences that foster connection and personal well-being.

We encourage drop-in art-making throughout the entire run of the exhibition and are thrilled to welcome the LivingRoom for facilitated art-making sessions on select Fridays; you can read more about The Neighbours Project ART HIVE with the LivingRoom by clicking this link. Come make art with us!

We want to express sincere gratitude to our partners and collaborators for their support: The Back Door Mission, The Gap Committee, The LivingRoom Community Art Studio, April Hind, and Selena Hind.

Installation of The Neighbours Project at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 2023. Photos by Toni Hafkenscheid.

Our Project Framework

The Neighbours Project is…

  • A collaborative effort from within the gallery to learn about the networks of support that exist outside the gallery to support individuals who do not have safe or stable housing.
  • An expression of hope about the vital role of the art gallery in our community today and tomorrow.
  • A long-term commitment to trust and relationship building with our neighbours.

Starting in 2022, The Neighbours Project looked like…

  • Hosting onsite group tours + tea parties with the Back Door Mission’s Wednesday Women’s Group on September 28, 2022 and August 30, 2023.
  • Facilitating two internal conversations with RMG staff about homelessness and our intentions for this project in October and November 2022.
  • Attending monthly Gap Committee meetings throughout 2023.
  • Hosting two Meet & Greet Brainstorming Sessions with Gap Committee members and Back Door Mission staff and patrons at the gallery in January 2023.
  • Attending Changing the Face of Homelessness presented by the Gap Committee on April 21, 2023.
  • Visiting the Back Door Mission with art materials in May and June for drop-in art-making with the Games Club.
  • Hosting two closed community events, offering lunch + creative workshops, at the gallery on July 30, 2023 and October 4, 2023.
  • Hosting ongoing project development meetings with our core collaborators and many more conversations and strategy meetings with each other.

The Neighbours Project installation is an opportunity to…

  • Rest and reflect.
  • Invite more people into our creative visioning.
  • Offer warmth and connection in the winter months.
  • Share our work with you!

Some more context:

We started this project with an understanding that the gallery has a relationship with all of its neighbours. As an institution, we do not exist in isolation. Looking to our immediate surroundings, we started building relationships with two key partners:

Nearby, the Back Door Mission is a hub for support. Offering nourishing meals, access to washrooms and showers, as well as recovery programs and support groups, the Back Door Mission also hosts a range of social service providers who deliver programs directly to clients in a central location.

Meeting monthly in Oshawa and Ajax, The Gap Committee is a collective of individuals and public service organizations with a mission to prevent and end homelessness in Durham Region. It is led by folks who know what it’s like to be unhoused and are passionate about removing barriers and advocating for love and support.

We were honoured to work with community leaders in both of these organizations who are doing incredible grassroots work. This led us to wonder where, if anywhere, the RMG could fit within this system of support.

Inspired by our core collaborators, we learned to appreciate how our space could function as a node within an individual’s social network. We also saw first hand how art has the potential to meet, at least in part, some essential needs: the need for belonging and self-expression.

The gallery is a free space. It is a space to seek quiet and meet friends. It is a space to rest and a space to celebrate. A space to learn and unlearn. But it’s also a space with unwritten social codes. The RMG’s imposing concrete façade and the legacies of privilege and systemic inequity that shape all art institutions have made the gallery an intimidating space too.

With these truths in our pockets, The Neighbours Project has been an effort to listen and learn so as to better understand the needs and desires of our community and take steps towards building relationships grounded in trust.

This installation is inspired by the relationships formed through this process and what we learned over the last year. It also draws on the longstanding community-engaged work that The LivingRoom Community Art Studio has been doing in Durham Region for nearly a decade. We are grateful to have had their support in conceptualizing and making real this exhibition and ART HIVE programming.

Importantly, we entered into this project without a clear outcome in mind. In place of an end goal, we continue to hold the intentions that guided our decision making throughout this project. We want to:

  • Gain a better awareness of what our neighbours need and want from the gallery;
  • Develop new ideas about what it means to extend care to our audiences, new and established;
  • Explore models of partnership and collaboration that prioritize trusting and accountable relationship building above all else.

Do you have any questions? Please get in touch by emailing Hannah at hkeating@rmg.on.ca and Erin at eszikora@rmg.on.ca.