Nunavut mural project builds confidence, creativity, in youth
Three weeks, three murals, 60 proud youth
There was one girl in Baker Lake who just kept saying no.
No, she didn’t want to paint. No, she wasn’t an artist. No, she didn’t have any ideas. No, she wasn’t interested in making a mural with the other youth.
But she kept coming to the hall where Pascale Arpin, an art educator with the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association, was leading a mural workshop this past March.
Having worked with youth before, Arpin knew a couple of things. One: kids who hang around usually want to join in but they’re afraid. And two: when they say no over and over, it’s hard for them to say yes, even if they want to.
So Arpin kept working on her, offering pieces of plywood for her to paint on, offering her brushes and the paint, making it easy to change her mind. Eventually she did.
“Once she started painting, she was amazing! She was über-talented. She was using really interesting colours and making interesting patterns and it was so clear she had a ton of talent,” Arpin said.
“We couldn’t get her to leave when we were trying to pack up.”
And that story had at least a dozen carbon copies, Arpin said.
The Kivalliq Youth Mural Project, borne of a grant through NACA, was intended as a means to gather youth together for a creative project that they, themselves, would design and fabricate.
Communities were contacted in advance to see if they were interested, and had the space available for creating and displaying the works. Rankin Inlet, Baker Lake and Arviat were chosen and Arpin spent about a week in each community working with youth.
But young people are often disengaged and cynical when it comes to group projects, especially ones run by adults from out of town.
“With that age, you have to put in an extra effort,” said Arpin, who worked at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa for seven years in its education department before moving to Iqaluit in 2011.
“It’s almost like they’ve built up too much insecurity about putting themselves out there, and affirming their abilities and if they’re not engaged from an early age, they don’t necessarily understand the positive outcome of participating,” she said.
But once the murals got rolling, they were a huge success.
“We had a lot of participants who started out shy and insecure and by the end of it, they were just freely painting and creating and expressing themselves,” she said, “eventually understanding that being good at something comes with practice and that your ideas are important.”
Those were the two main lessons Arpin was hoping to leave behind.
Each project unfolded the same way, beginning with the sometimes tedious process of deciding on a theme and planning the mural.
Participants had to brainstorm ideas and then choose a way forward — Arpin was only there to facilitate, not to tell them what to do. The goal was for them to own the project.
Once the theme was chosen, Arpin cut plywood in the shapes that participants wanted and then handed over the art supplies. That’s when the real fun began.
About 20 young people from each community took part in the project, ranging in age from young teenagers to their mid-20s.
Rankin Inlet’s mural went in the youth drop-in centre; Baker Lake’s mural was installed in an old community hall which is being converted into a youth space; and, Arviat’s mural went into the community hall.
Painting on plywood allows the works to be taken down and transferred to a another location in future.
All the artists whose works are now on public display are very proud of their accomplishment, she said. And that feeling of accomplishment is priceless.
As school boards across the country struggle to maintain standards in core subjects under ever confining budgets, art and music programs are often the first to be cut. But this is a grave mistake, Arpin says.
Creativity and artistic expression grow a child’s confidence and allow her to communicate in ways she often cannot through regular language, she said.
And careers in science, engineering and architecture, for example, all rely on a person’s ability to think and work creatively.
“Creativity and artistic vision seem abstract but ultimately creativity and innovation, in a concrete sense, are about self-confidence and conviction and the ability to believe in your own opinion and your own skills,” Arpin said.
“It applies to everything else in life, the feeling that you can achieve and complete a project.”
The hope is that youth who participated can lead similar projects in their community, now that they know how it’s done.
Arpin said NACA is already working on finding more money to replicate the project in other Nunavut communities.