Celebrating the Power of Art

A mural festival in the Yukon will draw artists, youth, and the general public together to decorate some buildings in Whitehorse with a colourful palette.

The 2-month long Yukon Heritage Mural Art Festival is kicking off on Saturday, and organizers are inviting anyone and everyone to pop by, check out what’s going on, pick up a paintbrush and be a part of the legacy.

The Youth of Today Society is organizing the festival that starts on May 27th and will continue through to Friday, July 14th.

Whitehorse will turn into an open-air art gallery, in which artists will create their masterpieces on the walls of approximately 10 buildings, located in downtown Whitehorse and in the Kwanlin Dün First Nation neighbourhood of McIntyre.

The goal is to encourage youth to get involved, to bring art to public space, to bring attention to youth issues, and to help the First Nation community heal.

Lancelot Burton, the executive director of Youth of Today Society and organizer of the Mural Festival believes that art has the power to support positive change.

“The festival events and public art installations serve as catalysts for addressing a variety of community issues impacting our city’s people,” he says. “One of our goals is to assist in the healing process and offer our respect to the families and friends

of the recently murdered victims. We have been touched through the Loss of Angel and now her mother Wendy. Angel had been part of our past mural programs and we felt that this was the very least we could offer”

Youth have been working with artist mentors for the past few weeks to create mural designs. Burton says the designs incorporate some strong topics: murdered and missing women, and women and child abuse.

“These topics will be done with finesse,” he says. “And these are all community issues. This is why we want the community to be involved. To understand what this is about.”

Burton, himself an artist, has experience painting murals that goes back more than 20 years. That experience two decades ago was the seed that has grown into the mural festival taking place this summer.

“In 1995 my company was contracted to paint the back of the Hougen Centre (on Main St.), this was, as I remember the first large mural in the city. It sparked the idea for the youth program and community event,” he says.

The first mural project Burton organized was conceived in 1997, it was for the Klondike Gold Rush centennial, and a few murals would be painted the following summer. The idea was to create summer employment for youth at risk.

Burton worked with Sheila Dodd, then a manager of tourism at City of Whitehorse, and with funding from Crime Prevention Yukon, the Community Development Fund, Elks Lodge, Employment Canada and a host of other corporate sponsors, to make the mural project a success.

“With help from co-worker Adam Green… and (approximately) 20 youth, we painted the back of the Royal Bank, the Northwestel communications building on Second Ave., a panel piece for Frantic Follies and a couple others,” Burton says.

During that centennial project, Burton landed a second contract for more murals, this time with the Community Youth Workers Project and Diane Huddle, to paint two murals on the Wood Street Annex building with 20 more youth.

“I found myself skipping from mural to mural, communicating with 40 kids between at least six large scale walls,” Burton says. “Youth took great pride in the program and I’m sure they each have fond memories of creating them. It was a lot of fun.”

The mural festival starting this Saturday offers youth an opportunity to learn about basic art and design techniques, and learn the skill of making murals.

Preparation for the mural festival started weeks ago, with Whitehorse based artists mentoring youth in creating mural designs. Now the youth are ready to present designs to the jury, which is representatives from the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, the City of Whitehorse, the Northern Cultural Expressions Society and the Youth of Today Society.

The artist mentors, including Colin Alexander, Ali Khoda, Rebecca Law, and Calvin Morberg, will also be involved with the mural production, and will be teaching members of the public who want to get involved how to do it.

Whitehorse artist Benjamin Gribben is one of the mentors involved in the project. He thinks that this kind of festival is important and plays a role in the life in the city.

“I think that these kinds of awareness festivals should take place more than one time a year… so we can start to trigger true change, not only for ourselves but the generations to come,” he says. “I believe that these festivals help to unite people and it is very important in our difficult time when many people feel isolated.”

Gribben has been involved previously with creating art for the purpose of healing and drawing attention to issues.

“I’ve been a part of various community projects a couple years ago. The first was a dugout canoe project and the second was a totem pole project; both in commemoration regarding residential schools.”

He sees art as a catalyst for change.

“Through the art the youth (can) change their point of view on life and we help them understand that art can be the way to prosperity and achieving success instead of losing hope.”

The festival will begin with creating murals in the the McIntyre neighbourhood. Then the crews will create murals on several buildings along Ogilvie Street, and conclude with a celebration in McIntyre.

“We want to bring light up there, since there were three murders there recently,” Burton says.

During the eight weeks of the festival, members of the public are encouraged to pop by the mural-painting locations, get hands-on with paint, or even just check out what is happening and talk to the artists.

Burton says a goal of the festival is for youth to see the power art has to instigate change and healing.

“We aim to tackle strong issues, community values, issues directly affecting youth and use the art as a healing commemorative workshop that engages and invites participants to be involved from start to finish,” he says. “It’s a fantastic way to share culture and heritage. We would like the whole community to take a bit of time out of their lives and bring family members down to the worksites and contribute to the art.”

So with that being said, come down and take part in creating a new page in Whitehorse’s artistic history.

“By participating, you’re partaking in the healing,” Burton says.

And he says don’t worry about messing anything up. “In our world, there is no such thing as mistakes. We have a training wall we’re going to start with.”

Everyone – of all ages and walks of life – are welcome to participate in the mural festival. In downtown Whitehorse look for the mural worksites along Ogilvie St. at the Staples building, behind Inspired Interiors, and the front of Yukon Apparel.

For more information about getting involved email Lancelot Burton at [email protected]

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