3 min

A celebration and a goodbye

Rhizome holds its farewell open house

Sonya Kuitenbrouwer enjoys the photo booth props at Rhizome’s open house. Credit: Erin Flegg

There is an old story, told by many people in many ways, about hungry travellers who come upon a village and ask for food. Turned away at every door, the travellers set about making stone soup.

At Rhizome on June 22, Naomi Steinberg, executive director of the Vancouver Society of Storytelling, lit a small candle and began to tell of two women travellers who came upon a hungry village. It didn’t take long for the packed-in crowd to see where this story was going.

Accompanied by low music, Steinberg led the audience through the making of the stone soup that would bring the community together, opening the floor for suggestions for ingredients. Into the soup went everything from cumin and tomatoes to food security and access to safe and affordable housing. When the soup was done and everyone in the village was fed, it was time for the women to go.

It’s through storytelling that Steinberg first came to Rhizome, and it was through this story that she offered her thanks at Rhizome’s farewell open house.

“What it has been for me is an extension of my living room, in the sense that I feel at home here, I feel safe here, I can be myself.”

She says the connections forged in this place will only grow as the community decides how to move forward in new ways and in new spaces. She says it would be impossible to move backward now.

“There are enough people looking out for each other that there’s integrity, there’s resilience.”

The event kicked off with performances by 2poc (short for 2 pansies of colour) and all-butch choir Leadfoot. Throughout the evening, the café served dinner by donation — black bean and squash stew with a side of cornbread — and in breaks between performances, attendees were invited to take pictures at the photo booth and make a page to go in the Rhizome community ’zine. DJ Salsomana closed out the day with a dance party.

The open house was a celebration and a goodbye, but not the official closing day. The café will still open through July and possibly into August as owners Lisa Moore and Vinetta Lenavat tie up loose ends and search for the right people to take over the lease. The official closing day depends primarily on the lease transfer.

Lenavat says the event was a true representation of what Rhizome is all about.

“Everybody here was here with such intention,” she says. “It was full the whole time, yet people were coming in and out. I felt like it was totally seamless, like everyone was connected.”

She says she and Moore were overwhelmed by the love and support the community brought to the event. “There was an incredible energy and vibrancy.”

They look forward to a solid lineup of events over the next month.

Susan Lee moved to Vancouver in 2007. An organizer with the Toronto- and Vancouver-based social-justice group Justicia, Lee says she and the rest of the Justicia group felt immediately at home at Rhizome.

“It felt like a place I could bring my whole self,” she says. She moved to the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood that has been Rhizome’s home for the last seven years so she would be closer to the café.

“It’s somewhere to go when things are hard, and it’s somewhere to go when I have my best news.”

Hip-hop artist Jerilynn Webster, aka JB the First Lady, came to Rhizome in 2008, having just given birth to her son, Sequoia, a month early and looking for a venue at which to launch her first album. She needed something affordable; Rhizome donated the space for her event.

“They raised me as an artist,” she says, adding that Rhizome has done the same for many others, nurturing artists of all kinds and providing a platform from which to speak out.

She says Rhizome will leave a legacy of strong connections.

“I hope it inspires another group of people to do this work, too.”