Edmonton City Hall has been a busy place during the month of December with various activities and events occupying the main floor. School children from area schools have been singing carols and other festive and traditional songs for the past couple of weeks, but December 2 was a special event for artists living in the inner city communities of Boyle and McCauley. That’s because together they held a community exhibit to showcase and sell their work in the spacious main floor at City Hall. The initiative, sponsored by The City of Edmonton, The Works, Bissell Centre, Boyle Street Community Services, the Stollery charitable foundation and the Edmonton Community Foundation, was held from December 2-18.
When the event was launched on December 2 more than 100 people gathered to view the artwork and hear a few words from the sponsors. Mayor Don Iveson was among the special guests who attended the opening of the exhibit, as was Bissell Centre CEO Mark Holmgren and Linda Wedman, CEO of The Works Society.
Recognizing the participating artists, Wedman addressed the gathering and noted that, “this exhibit features 41 works of art by 12 artists who are creating in the inner city neighbourhoods of Boyle and McCauley. It is the first (project) of its kind undertaken in the city. This exhibit recognizes and celebrates your artistic talent and explores the creativity of the artists from the core of our city. We so appreciate all that you’ve done to share your work with us today.”
Mark Holmgren called the Art in the Heart of the City project “a very special initiative for me.” He told the crowd something he “tells lots of people” and that’s to “never underestimate the power of having a talk with someone about an idea; great things can be done just by having a conversation.” He explained that a simple conversation with one of his friends (Elexis Schloss) was a key factor in the creation of this initiative.
“We were talking about the creativity and vibrancy of the art that is being created in the inner city,” he said. “The short story is we are here today with an incredible exhibit by individuals with very credible talent. Art speaks to all of us in different ways; it is very personal, just as creating art is very personal to the artist. We all value art – especially when we have kids and what we teach our children about drawing, about thinking, about singing and playing. We know that being creative is very important to each of us; we are all creative in our own ways and to see some of the incredible art here today, and the many who have come to enjoy it, tells us that art is important to both individuals and communities.”
Holmgren also spoke about the fortitude of the artists, many of whom have suffered from tragedy, trauma, addictions and poverty.
“Painter Henri Matisse (1869-1954) once said that creativity takes courage and if you think about it he’s right; it takes courage to put yourself out there whether it’s through song, sculpture, painting, photography or drawing. I think it’s especially worth noting that it takes some extra courage when you are a person living on the street or living in poverty or if you’ve suffered trauma in your life, to have the courage to still create and to find ways to do it with few supplies and no place, no room to create.”
Six of the 12 artists, Randy Aleekuk, Brandon Atkinson, Chris Burnstick, Rocky Hill, William Neis and William J. St. Savard were on hand to hear the applause of the crowd.
Twenty-five year old Brandon Atkinson began drawing when he was just eight years old. He credits his grandparents for encouraging him and for believing in him.
“From the time I first started going to school they told me: if you can see it in your head, you can draw it.” They were right. Atkinson’s pen-drawn art is magnificent to behold and was among the nicest on display during the exhibit.
Brandon wants to make a better life for himself and his family and would like to see his name and his artwork become better recognized and thus more apt to sell in the larger galleries or to private collectors. His line-drawn artwork is both intricate and inspiring.
Randy Aleekuk is carver who grew up in Inuvik. He got his inspiration and training from his talented uncle. He plans to continue to create art and in doing so hopes to promote his culture and make a name for himself.
Edmonton resident Rocky Hill is a member of the Tsimshian Nation in British Columbia. He attended art school in Vancouver for two years before setting out to work as an artist. He draws and carves masks, and his artwork is a part of his healing journey.
Photographer William Neis only began taking pictures in 2009 but has already amassed a beautiful collection of unusual and unique work. To date he’s taken more than 30,000 photographs, all of them in Edmonton. Neis takes photos as a way of expressing himself and he also utilizes it as a form of self-therapy.
Chris Burnstick is an Aboriginal artist from the Alexander First Nation near Moninville. His “teaching art” is both bright and beautiful and filled with interesting and colourful characters, signs, animals and symbols of unity. The artist believes that a painting or picture “can heal the spirit” and notes that a single vision of art can have many meanings and could take a million words to describe.
William J. St. Savard comes from a family of creative-minded people and as such began to draw when he was just three years old. He said for him, art is the expression of life; sometimes good, sometimes bad, more often finding the balance in the middle. His inspiration, he noted, comes from the fact that “I don’t think about it; it just comes right out of my hand.”
One of goals of the initiative was to give artists from the inner city an opportunity to network, to meet potential buyers of their crafts and to gain insight into how to create art for sale. Many of the artists who participated have never sold a piece of art before; until now they have given away or traded their artwork for other products and/or favours. The goal was to encourage the artists to seek ways to earn some extra money through the sales of their creations.
“The Works,” noted Wedman, “had a mission for this exhibit. The goal was to enable artists creating in our inner city communities to become inspired and empowered by the opportunity to display their art work in this beautiful city hall.”
All of the artists works were and are for sale; all proceeds go to the artist. For more information about the exhibit or to connect with one (or more) of the artists, call the Works Society office at 780-426-2122 ext. 227 or email [email protected].
Thanking Erasma Coco and the Spirit Women Singers for their interlude entertainment, Wedman encouraged the gathering to “experience this exhibit with the view of supporting these emerging artists. Take home an original piece of art, get one for your office and be sure to tell your friends and family to come and visit the exhibit with the same thought in mind.”
by John Copley