Walking into 1811 Eastlake on the afternoon of Oct. 28 was a bit different than walking in on any other day. Streamers were hung on every table of the dining hall, with balloons delicately balancing as centerpieces. A woman named Lovella, 61, stood at the counter, carefully organizing and stapling sheets of paper together, while others were getting ready for the grand reveal:
Seventeen residents at 1811 Eastlake Ave. had finally finished crafting their second issue of a collective zine, and they were ready to share their work with the world.
A zine, pronounced “zeen,” is a small, independently published magazine filled with original artwork. Zines are usually created by photocopying art or writings and have limited distribution. It’s an accessible way to share creative endeavors without the frills of modern technology outside of the photocopier. Needed beyond that are just the pieces of work, scissors, some paper and a bit of zeal — something 1811 residents proved to have plenty of at the release party.
In order to understand the importance zines play in the lives of those at 1811, it’s important to understand the roots of 1811 Eastlake. Opened in 2005 by Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC) and the Addictive Behaviors Research Center (ABRC) at the University of Washington (UW), the award-winning program provides housing to 75 people who are formerly homeless and are tackling chronic alcohol addiction. It’s not a “dry house:” Residents are allowed to keep drinking while living there. The community spurs motivation to drink less and change lifestyles (“In ‘wet housing,’ alcoholics find motivation to stay dry,” RC, Jan. 2, 2013). The pilot program’s effectiveness has garnered national attention.
With the help of UW's Life Enhancing Alcohol-management Program (leap), the arts collective was born to fill that creative void in an official capacity.
The five year leap program, funded by National Institute of Health and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, started in 2012. Over the course of the last three years, research showed the need for alternative healing practices, activities with meaning — in addition to more staff support.
“After our team established evidence to suggest that housing does indeed come first, we began to ask ourselves, what comes next,” said Seema Clifasefi, assistant professor at UW and principal investigator of leap. “We turned to individuals that we believed had the most expertise to help us answer this question: individuals with the lived experience of homelessness and alcohol use problems.”
An advisory board comprised of residents, DESC staff and UW staff created the Meaningful Activities Coordinator position in 2015 based upon this expressed desire for resources to improve quality of life.
And that’s where Ellie Taylor comes in. “I’m accountable to the residents, and they know that,” she said. “They know that they can talk to me about things that they want, and it’s my job to make it happen.”
“The first thing we did was secure a dedicated art space, which was a big deal because there wasn’t any space like that in this building,” said Taylor. A room on the fourth floor has become a studio and makeshift gallery, with musical instruments strewn about, and paintings and weavings by residents hung on the wall.
“The longer that space was open, the more people started coming out of the woodwork wanting to talk about art that they make,” said Taylor. “Writers, people working on novels, poetry — people who want to show their work in the community.” In an effort to organize and display the work through accessible means, the zine project was born and will be published quarterly.
Angie Webster, 54, doesn’t gain much from showing her work: Rather, for her, it is an act of inspiration to those who initially shy away from expressing themselves. “Seeing something you created and is actually in print ... it’s a desire of my heart,” Webster explained. “Poetry and writing [are] the love of my life, so it’s nice to see the goal that I accomplished. That is very rewarding.”
A powerful theme in the second zine is grief, something many of the residents have been dealing with over the past year. A resident and close friend to many passed away recently, and that person is honored through the art and words copied in the zine, an aid the process of coming to terms with deep grief.
“You’re not just thinking about it, you’re getting it out. You’re expressing yourself. I think that’s very important,” said Bert Raupp. “It helps me.” Raupp has multiple works in the latest zine, including poems and prose dealing with the realities of alcohol dependence and the death of someone dear.
A list of resources naming grief stages and how to handle the range of emotions surrounding them is also featured. This contribution, based on information from the National Cancer Association, was submitted by a joint collaboration between Jeffrey and a staff member. “I believe this zine can be a healing process,” Jeffrey said. “I have the capability of disappearing. This pulls me back in.”
For Lovella, who had stapled papers, the zine project and other art endeavors at 1811 Eastlake help keep her occupied, but it is also a way to share her Lakota Sioux traditions. “I try to participate here because this is a part of my sobriety,” she said. “If I choose to do something, that helps me to stay focused on myself by contributing.” The artwork she’s planning to display in the next zine is a pattern that includes the four cardinal directions and corresponding colors. Her fry bread sits on the counter, something she cooked for the community during the zine celebration.
Opportunities to display work outside of 1811 are cropping up: This December, paintings will be hung on the walls of Cortona Cafe in the Central District.
Beyond the zine project, the LEAP program advisory board has created space for other artistic endeavors. Every Thursday, residents meet with mentors from the Pongo Teen Writing Project, which works to use writing with at-risk youth as a healing tool. While 1811 residents are not teens, the mentorship is still valuable to many here. There are also talent shows, talking circles, participation in Native traditions and more — but the zine is the first tangible collection of creativity brewing in the halls.
“On the first zine, there’s a statement on the bottom of the cover that says, ‘We would love to let you know who we are,’” said Taylor. “People here have talked to me about how 1811 has a negative reputation in the community. People have a lot of moral judgements about folks who have been homeless, folks who use substances, and the people here really want to be able to speak for themselves and say: No, this is who we are; this is what’s important to us; these are the skills we have, and we actually have a lot to offer.”
Participants are ready for the zine project to expand, and they are eager to create more often. Jeffrey joked about the joys of reaching Volume 18, Issue 11, but for now, he finds peace in the joy and outlet provided through zine making.
“I see this growing,” he said. “I mean, we didn’t have balloons last time.”