How to Face Fear and Become Part of a Community Art Project

I can’t paint. If there was a dictionary listing for “can’t paint” there would be a picture of me. Or perhaps it would be “Don’t paint!”

Yet today I spent an hour contributing to the Diversity Art Project at Yukon College, called I Dreamed I was Home.

The Diversity Art Project is being coordinated by Whitehorse artist Nicole Bauberger. It is a community mural and there is a open invitation extended to community members of all ages to drop by and help paint it.

The final 36-foot long piece will hang on the main wall and stairwell in the reception area known as The Pit the at Ayamdigut campus, and until the end of November anyone can come to the Whitehorse campus of Yukon College and contribute to its creation.

In September, people brainstormed around the theme “I dreamed I was home” and contributed to the design of the mural through sketching and collage. They came up with a river flowing through the design, taking us through panels depicting the seasons, from spring, to summer, fall, winter and ending with break-up, illustrated by activities and items associated with the given season, such as spring flowers, a wood truck, snowshoes, ice fishing, and mining equipment. The northern lights play in the huge sky above the mountains, while a bear, raven, wolf, and moose — as well as people representing our diverse cultures — are in the valley below.

Nicole Bauberger has broken down the process of painting the mural to make it easy for people of all skill levels to participate, even me, and is on hand to explain the process and help people when necessary. There are 78, 16-inch by 16-inch panels in total.

The main mural design unfolds across 65 panels with an additional 13 panels to be sent out and displayed at each of the twelve Yukon College community campuses, plus one learning centre.

I picked an easy square of the design to try – the northern lights. It was expressive and abstract and not photo-realistic. It could be fixed later. Still, the act of making a physical mark on the 16-inch by 16-inch board terrified me.

At this stage I was transferring the design worked out by the people last month onto one of the 65 boards, square by square. Other people can come in and pick up my unfinished board and continue the transfer. Later, different people will add colour washes to the panel.

It is up to you how much or how little you do.

I began by drawing a grid on the board: 16 small squares. Next, I drew a similar grid on the piece of the design you have picked. Then I washed my first square with transparent acrylic to make the coloured paint take and blend on the board. I wondered if I could just help out by drawing grids and running transparent stuff over each one. But I pressed on. I had 35 minutes of my lunch break left.

The design is in grey scale, and after penciling what was in the first square of my grid, I used only green and white paint to approximate the light, shade and details. My first square was simply a dark swish of aurora with lighter swishes on either side. It took me 15 minutes.

I totally overdid the green on the first pass and then overcompensated with the white, and then in trying to salvage it, I overdid it again. Thankfully Nicole showed me how to take the paint off with a clean, wet brush, and I began to relax.

The second square, a continuation of the previous swishes, was easier – I even felt comfortable going back and fixing up the first one so it matched a little better. The third and fourth squares were a breeze. There I was, painting. And in my work clothes – it wasn’t even messy.

In under an hour I had painted four of the 16 small squares on my panel. So, one quarter of a mural panel, or 0.4 per cent of the entire thing. And it felt pretty good.

As I sat there, several students joined in. They too began by saying they had never painted before and started drawing out their grids. Four people were hard at work when I left. As I walked away I felt proud. Not only did I learn to do something new, a little part of this massive project now belonged to me.

Or is it the other way around?

In the coming weeks, more people are going to cover the green and white with other colours, building upon the design and initial painting.

Nicole Bauberger is coordinating the community art project I Dreamed I was Home at the Whitehorse campus of the Yukon College. Please come, and drop by The Pit, and pick up a paintbrush on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., and on Wednesdays between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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