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Watch the final videos for WAG’s ART EXPRESS’D/ART EXPRIMÉ Cross-Canada Art Adventure Celebrates Canada 150 Watch Becky Thiessen's video. Watch Evin Collis' video. Watch Jessie Buchanan's...
Wrapping Up ART EXPRESS’D
October 31, 2017
by Stasa Veroukis-Regina
I was sitting on the floor in my office, sorting through all 150 canvasses that were created along the North Route of the ART EXRESS’D and I found two canvasses featuring big red hearts. At that moment I was struck with a deep desire to paint. One canvas was painted in Inuvik, the other in Churchill. I’ve always had a thing for hearts, so naturally these images struck a chord with me. And then I smiled, thinking “That’s exactly what we wanted to accomplish with ART EXPRESS’D – to inspire Canadians to create, to make art, to spark emotion.”
I started working on ART EXPRESS’D in late November 2016 – it’s been nearly a year and I feel very grateful to have had this opportunity to be the “hub” of this incredible project. It really was incredible! I have many memories from this year, these are just a few of my highlights.
I remember calling Jessie one day to chat about upcoming travel logistics but we ended up chatting about her experiences so far along her travels. She told me how she felt exhilarated bringing painting to the north. Although northern communities are filled with artists, painting is typically under-represented as a medium. She felt energized bringing her workshops to these communities to perhaps inspire others to paint.
I remember when Evin was in Ottawa we were booked at Inspiration Village during the weekend that La Machine turned the streets of Ottawa into a giant puppet theatre. Thousands upon thousands of people lined the streets and Evin was rushed off his feet creating papier mache characters and facilitating stop-motion animation all weekend. In the hubbub though, he managed to take some time to enjoy the theatrics of La Machine and become a spectator himself. He was amazed and inspired – and I couldn’t be more pleased that he got a chance to see the spectacle and take part in this once in a lifetime event.
I remember Becky working with children and with Minister Melanie Joly on a hot summer’s day at the Forks Parks Canada Place in Winnipeg. She was between stops on her tour and was able to fly back to Winnipeg. When the Minister visited Winnipeg Becky was in town and could run a workshop. Seeing Becky in action and in her element was a real treat for me because I remained in Winnipeg the entire time directing traffic from my office. Becky is a natural teacher and clearly at ease facilitating artmaking with people of all ages. She helped Minister Joly paint her very own stencil and I was able to witness the joy of artmaking.
Were there bumps along the way? Of course. This was a unique project with unique challenges. I was nervous as the launch day approached and each of the containers were on the road en route to the three coasts. Becky, Evin, and Jessie hit the road via planes and cars. Would they reach their destinations on time? (They did). Would the mobile art studios make their way without delay? (There were delays, but the mobile art studios made it to all three coasts for the launch date). I definitely learned a lot along the way. I learned how big Canada really is. I learned it’s actually faster to get to Inuvik than it is to St. John’s – who knew? Most importantly, though, I learned how helpful people are along the way. I worked with people at 15 different community organizations across the country at galleries, parks, art centres, community halls, theatres, universities, and schools. They were all happy to host our traveling art studios and help coordinate events on the ground. Even when I was not able to be there in person, these individuals took the reins and made sure the events were successful.
There were a lot of people along the way who helped out and I recognize that without them this tour wouldn’t have gone very far. Everyone at the venues (our hosts), our sponsors, and of course the team at the WAG. Thank you to all the hosts and teams of people who made each event a success!
Working at the WAG was an amazing opportunity for me, and I thank all the people at the WAG for making ART EXPRESS’D shine. It’s been a joy to come to work at the WAG every day, to be surrounded by people passionate about the arts, and who are willing to help out wherever possible.
The WAG’s ambitious vision for Canada 150 to turn three sea containers into mobile art studios, pack them up with art supplies, and send them off across Canada with three artists leading the way has now been realized. Now, at the end of the journey, I am happy to say this project accomplished what it set out to do – to bring art to communities across Canada.
Enjoy this photo of me exploring shipping containers last winter.
Artist Jessie Buchanan Reflects on her Completed Cross-Canada Journey
October 23, 2017
by Jessie Buchanan
For me, ART EXPRESS’D was connected to the changing landscape of Canada. As a First Nations artist and art therapist, I viewed this project as important because I believe in the power that art has to transcend and unite cultures. Specifically, art creation has been used not only to heal, but has also proved to lend visibility to individual and collective voices. All of the communities I visited were northern Canadian communities, and with our country being the size it is, I think this project is a way for these communities to be heard and represented in the south. So in a way, I view ART EXPRESS’D (and my container exhibit, entitled Voices of the Landscape), as a way to bridge the distance between communities and have new conversations. What I learned from this experience is that no matter where you go in Canada, there are always people who are willing to help. When faced with challenges, I felt very supported by the participants and locals at each stop. I was offered volunteers, help with organizing participants, and even invited over for dinner!
The spirit of Canada 150 was about national pride and transparency, in positive ways and in a spirit of honesty. The celebration of Confederation was received ambiguously in the places I stopped; in many of the indigenous communities I visited I found people had different, sometimes opposing, views of Canada 150. In fact, it is difficult to summarize how people ‘as a whole’ felt about the ‘Canada 150’ thing. Generally speaking, everyone I spoke to was very proud to be Canadian, and almost everyone who came out to the workshops was very enthusiastic. At the same time, there was definitely a sense that there were both positives and negatives when considering the past 150 years and how things currently stand in Canada. I was very interested in ART EXPRESS’D being a vehicle for participants to use their voices to represent how they feel about Canada 150, and so some of the artwork is political in nature. With this being said, most participants used the artwork as a way to show pride, regardless of background, social-economic status, or gender. Pride not only in Canada, but also pride of traditional ancestry, lifestyle and connection to the landscape.
There was so much about the journey that was exciting, but I would have to say that being able to travel across northern Canada was the highlight of it all. I realized that there are many similarities between northern communities, (midnight sun, fireweed, short spruce trees or tundra) but also many differences. The differences are interesting to me, and are what kept me excited at each community I visited. For example, I didn’t realize there were so many different groups of Inuit people and Indigenous people in the north, who all have their own unique languages and traditions. Getting to meet the wonderful people in each location was something that I will take with me always.
Driving the Dempster highway from Inuvik to Whitehorse with my driver, Kevin, in a 22-wheel semi, pulling the ART EXPRESS’D art studio was one of the biggest highlights for me. The Dempster Highway is a must see because you drive through both the Richardson and Tombstone mountain ranges. We had a blast! When we arrived in Whitehorse the shipping container-transformed-art-studio was a mess! It was completely covered in all the dust and mud from the Dempster Highway. We spent a solid afternoon power washing it before the day of my first workshop at the Yukon Arts Centre. Again, I should say that each of the communities I visited had amazing people who came out and participated in the project. I can’t say enough good things about the kind and wise people that I met along the way (and hopefully I will stay in touch with many of them). That’s another highlight for me.
There was this sweet, young girl, October, who came out every day in Inuvik. She would ride her bike over and meet me almost every morning (before school— remember, this was the beginning of June), even if it was just to say hi, but she usually wanted to stick around. She did the most beautiful painting of a sunset. For some reason, we just connected. I often wonder what she’s up to way up there in
Inuvik, and I hope to see her again someday. In some ways, people like October are one of the main reason I decided to take part in this project: I thought that if I can inspire even one person along the way, then it would be worth it. And the funny thing is that October (and many others along the way) wound up inspiring me in ways I hadn’t even anticipated!
This experience has definitely changed my previous perceptions of Canada. I realized how diverse and welcoming our northern neighbours are. In some ways this country is divided between the vast majority to who live in the southern areas, and those whose lives are lived in the immensity of the north. It can be easy to forget both the wisdom and the hardships of living in the north. For many of these communities, what food there is must be flown in or hunted from the land; the prices of ‘fresh’ produce, or in some cases of accommodations, are extremely high. Also, in many ways our northern neighbours are the people who feel the seismic shifts of a changing climate. I just think it’s something that we ‘southerners’ need to remember: these northern people are up there and they deserve our attention. Before going up on the project I definitely didn’t know how much wisdom and beauty and hardship went into life in the north.
I would like to thank the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Government of Canada, for this wonderful, once in a lifetime opportunity. I will always be very grateful for this opportunity as it has forever changed me. There are too many people to name here, but each of the people I met during my journey has made an impact on my life and how I see the world. This country is vast but also full of closeness. We are separated by long distances and yet we rely on each other every day. I feel privileged and honored that I’ve been able to paint and laugh and learn in places that most people do not get the chance to go. In June, during a CBC interview, I was asked what Canada 150 meant for me. I replied then that Canada 150 was ‘truth and reconciliation’. I still feel the same way now: we live in the best country in the world, but in order to make it even better we need to make sure everyone is included as we move forward. We need to be honest about the wounds of the past and the pain of the present, but if we do the hard work, we just might be able to create a future together that brings reconciliation and togetherness. Even though we are all different, we are still one. I feel like northern Canada will always be a place I will return to!
Artist Becky Thiessen Reflects on her Completed Cross-Canada Journey
October 23, 2017
by Becky Thiessen
Travelling and making art with others, is a dream come true. We have such an interesting country. Such variety in geography and people. I think about all the various places in Canada that I have gone and marvel at the extreme differences in landscapes and weather and waters. I think about this diversity and then I think about the people. We do live in a special place. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and make art with many Canadians, young and old with so many different stories to tell.
I love when a parent comes with their child and initially think that the art making is for the kids. My goal in my workshops, is to engage everyone. I always encourage the parents to participate and not just with the child, but on their own as well. Many adults have lost that excitement with art making, and I love bringing it back to them. I designed my art project to be very accessible. I adapt it so that the very little can participate, the people with mobility issues, the older people and the ones who haven’t touched paint since grade 3. We all started to draw before we learned our letters and numbers, and I think that people can find their drawing skills again as an adult. My project also engages the most technically skilled, it is a process where anyone, if they want, can participate with success.
I have many stories to share. I have a collection of stencils and each one of them has reminds me of the different people I met along the way. The stencils pay it forward to the next community. In Alert Bay a soon-to-be mom, was making a stencil of a butterfly. She told me that she comes from the butterfly clan and wanted to make a baby bag with a butterfly stencil. That stencil then travelled with me to many other places and used many times over. In Notre Dame-de-Lourdes a young woman, who was also pregnant, was drawn to that butterfly stencil and started using it, I was so thrilled to tell her where it came from and who made it. A little girl on her tenth birthday came and made art with men Saskatoon, she was a little bit apprehensive about the project. She drew a puppy and I cut it into a stencil. That stencil became one of the most popular stencils. I got to meet up with her later and tell her, that her art inspired so many others. It was so fun when two teenage boys wandered into my workshop in Lethbridge and ended up staying for hours.
I had so many joys working with people, teaching them a technique that they might never have known before. It really can be such a joy when the art under the stencil is revealed, so much cheering and laughter. I had a great time sharing my art with so many Canadians. I want art to be accessible and I want people to explore and learn new things and have confidence in themselves to create.
The more I travel Canada and meet others living in this country, the more excited I am to learn about my country and the people who live here.