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The History of the Pandora Arts Collective Society

By P Jean Oliver, Founding Member.
Victoria, BC. October 6, 2015

“Why don’t we just run it ourselves?”

In a mix of legend and myth, the Greek’s tell of Pandora, “the all giver”, and first human created by the deities. They assigned her the care of a vessel filled with all the chaos and wonder known to humanity, gave her curiosity, and told her not to look inside. Then they all sat back (presumably), and waited to see what happened next, knowing full well she would look inside and release the contents of the box to the world.

But the gods, perhaps belatedly realizing their responsibility to their child, captured hope for her to keep and carry within her, knowing it to be the strongest gift they could give her.

Creativity is in the same way, as tempting and compelling as Pandora’s curiosity. It’s an expression of oneself, something that’s made better by sharing. Not something we are meant to lock away. The Artist needs the Observer, and the Patron.

The Pandora Arts Collective Society is a registered charity. Our members experience the healing power of creating art together. We collaborate with community art events throughout the year.

Formerly a successful art-as-therapy program initiated by the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA). When funding was cut, and the program cancelled in 2004, a handful of members chose to continue on together as an art Collective.

They retained the name of Pandora, the street the original VIHA program was located on. They felt the legend of the first human, and her little vessel filled with hope, encapsulated the struggles and victories inherent in surmounting mental health challenges.

Our founding members wasted little time protesting the program’s closure. They didn’t want to be associated with the health authority. Instead, they wanted autonomy, and took the closure as a good thing, after getting over the shock. By using their wits, artistry and determination they laid out a plan, such as it was.

The idea of keeping their beloved art program grew from the casual, somewhat naïve question, “Why don’t we just run it ourselves?”

It was a question no one could find any problems with. From that grew the seeds of an idea. We would become a group called PACS. We would run it ourselves. “I mean,” said one, “How hard could it be?”

There was a sense of the healing power of the rightness of that decision that buoyed up our early Founders. Which was a good thing because things proved very hard indeed. But one of the gifts of living with mental illness is hope. They persevered. They’d made art together, they mattered to each other, and through shared adversity they had gelled into a family. They simply used that cohesiveness to go into business together.

An early art room was provided by Laurel House until space was located in early 2005 at 1923 Fernwood Road. The Fernwood Community Association (FCA) accepted a proposal drawn up by Founders, donating the use of their hall two afternoons a week. Eventually funding was secured for a small back office to house supplies and hold meetings in.

The Pandora Arts Collective organized on our own terms. Our Board is half participants and half community directed. There is no restrictive criteria for “qualifying” as a participant, no destabilizing time-limits on that participation, and no single-funding source that dictates our programming. Our membership is open to anyone wanting to improve mental well-being through the practice of making art.

With a lot of help from the community, our Founders learned how to raise funding, put on art shows, work together as a team, and how to advocate for what they needed. Eventually, in one of the first eleventh-hour moments, our group was awarded three years of funding from the City of Victoria. Other grants and donations followed, including successful Gaming grants in years the Arts were hard to fund. More people caught the vision, more resources were added, more joy and accomplishment, and more headaches!

By 2007 Pandora had grown beyond the capacity to run on a volunteer basis. The original members, who had become both facilitators and the first Board members, realized for the group to flourish, more was needed than they could provide, especially with their own personal health care to think of. Member support and safety, and administrative consistency were also needed. Just as they faced what looked like an insurmountable hurdle, a sudden windfall donation from Opus Framing and Arts Supplies enabled them to hire a trained Facilitator.

Over the years, many business people and private citizens in and around Victoria have been inspired by the group’s determination to self govern. Catching the spirit of the enterprise, all have backed the project with money, resources, expertise, and time. Community members have sat on the boards and given their contributions to the group’s success. Many hundreds of participants have been helped to better health by this cost effective project. Pandora matured and in 2013, became a registered charity in its own right.

The secret to the Pandora Arts Collective Society’s success is how we have persisted as a group. The health of the group is central to any projects the group decides to undertake. If something is not sustainable with the resources at hand, it is not good for Pandora. In this way, the membership has grown from its original eight members to over sixty in 2013, growth imbued by the art they make together.

The spirit of the Pandora Arts Collective is captured in our slogan “That which creates itself cannot be destroyed.” Ours is an historic vessel like our namesake. PACS is our vessel, one rich in compassion and self determination; encompassing a dynamic past, present, and a future filled with hope, and an unshakable belief in the healing power of art.