Making Their Mark

Thanks to a Vital Signs grant, Royal Gardens youth will debut their artwork at the Nuit Blanche art festival later this month

While some look down on art as an impractical pastime, Edmonton artist Malcolm Azania believes it’s an essential part of being human.

“Every sighted child in the World loves to draw. They’ll draw on sand in places where they don’t have paper,” says Azania. A long-time educator of both kids and adults, Azania knows that teachers and parents aren’t always supportive of this creative instinct, and that frustrated young people can suffer emotionally. Some even turn to tagging buildings with graffiti to “make a mark on the World,” he says. “They want someone to know they were there.”

Thanks to an ECF Vital Signs Grant, Azania was hired to teach art this summer to youth in the southside community of Royal Garden, with the goal of creating a mural from the students’ collective works. The project was an initiative of the Royal Gardens Community League and the Nuit Blanche art festival, where the mural will be displayed on September 29th.

Nadir Bellahmer, the programming chair for Nuit Blanche, explains that the festival’s board of directors wanted to include a community project at this year’s event and reached out to many community groups before selecting the Royal Gardens Community League, where Bellahmer also serves as president.

“We have a lot of youth in the [neighbourhood] who are new Canadians and we’ve been working with them over the last six years to get them involved in the community — because they are the community,” he says. The summer’s art workshops offered a valuable opportunity for young people to express themselves, connect with the community, and be mentored by an African-Canadian artist (most of the youth are Somali and Sudanese).

Now that the classes have ended, Azania is scanning the art created by youth and compiling them into a digital mural that will be and printed on vinyl and displayed on a wall of the community league building, as well as projected on a building during the Nuit Blanche festival on September 29.

“I hope they’ll be excited to bring out their folks and friends, and pull people over to say, ‘Hey, you see that part of the mural over there? I made that!’ ” says Azania.

Click here to listen to an interview about this project on The Well-Endowed Podcast.