Youth mural project facilitator Yvonne Vander Kooi (middle) and two of her teenage artists work on a mural in memory of Makayla Chang at the Harewood Activity Centre earlier this month. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

Youth mural project facilitator Yvonne Vander Kooi (middle) and two of her teenage artists work on a mural in memory of Makayla Chang at the Harewood Activity Centre earlier this month. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

Nanaimo youths creating mural in memory of Makayla Chang

Mural to be unveiled at Harewood Centennial Park on March 17

This March, Makayla Chang would have turned 18 years old. It will also mark two years since the Nanaimo teen was last seen alive.

On March 17, the friends she left behind and the friends she never met will make sure she has a permanent presence in her neighbourhood when they unveil a memorial mural at Harewood Centennial Park.

One of the driving forces behind the mural project is Ajay MacLeod, coordinator of Generation Q, a drop-in support group for LGBTQ teens in Nanaimo that Chang attended. MacLeod said Chang was “super friendly” and well-known in Harewood and that her unsolved murder hit the community hard.

“A lot of the youths I spoke to just felt like they hadn’t had closure, like everyone had just kind of moved on, that there was really no outcome to know what happened and it just kind of felt like it was swept under the rug,” MacLeod said.

GenQ members brainstormed about what they could do to acknowledge Chang, and arrived at the idea of a mural that would commemorate her while also honouring and giving voice to other marginalized youths in the community who have struggled, died or gone missing.

MacLeod then approached Deborah Hollins, executive director of the Nanaimo Family Life Association, another organization Chang was involved in, who managed to secure funding from the city and brought in local mural artist Yvonne Vander Kooi to help facilitate the project.

Vander Kooi held workshops with young people from groups like GenQ, Support Among Youth and Tsawalk and invited them to participate in the project.

“I garnered some information and material from youths from these workshops and we’re kind of implementing those ideas and those images into the mural to create a narrative,” Vander Kooi explained. “A bit of a fantastical narrative, but one that I think has some very specific connections to Makayla as well.”

Zoe Hay learned about the project when Vander Kooi visited the SAY drop-in centre she attends. The 14-year-old said she’s used to painting on smaller canvases and has never worked on a mural before. Vander Kooi said Hay is one of the project’s most dedicated participants.

“I may not have known [Chang], I’ve never been friends with her, but I’ve heard friends who were friends with Makayla and I heard the stories that she’s had with them and I feel very proud of what I’m doing now,” Hay said.

The 5-by-12-foot painting features brightly coloured, overlapping imagery drawn from nature intertwined with a topographical layout of Harewood and references to neighbourhood landmarks, including the tree Chang used to climb at Fifth Street and Bruce Avenue.

Vander Kooi said bird symbolism is meant to evoke the legend of the phoenix and MacLeod noted that the inclusion of a deer alludes to a costume Chang once wore to a GenQ Halloween party.

“I think we often forget how powerful and imaginative and intelligent our youths are and so this is an opportunity for them to really showcase that about themselves,” Vander Kooi said. “And I think it’s a kind of actual, visual, physical reminder of that kind of untapped potential.”

RELATED: Community coming to grips with loss in Makayla Chang case

MacLeod said the process was cathartic for the participants to meet, talk and share their feelings and visions, and added that the mural should act as a reminder that vulnerable youths need protection.

“I just hope it’s a physical monument that people can always see and remember, that youths can feel like their voices were heard and that they were able to create this living memorial,” MacLeod said. “But also … for us a community to be accountable and not forget her and see how we can help move forward with this and help some other youths so that this tragedy isn’t repeated.”

WHAT’S ON … Makayla Chang memorial mural unveiling at Harewood Centennial Park on March 17 from 1 to 2 p.m. RSVP by March 13 to reception@nflabc.org.

arts@nanaimobulletin.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ district administration centre. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district gets started on new budget amid unknowns

Ministry’s per-student funding increase doesn’t fully cover pay raises for teachers and support staff

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo school district reports COVID-19 case at Fairview Elementary

April 9 exposure the fourth case reported in SD68 since spring break

The old career resource centre, formerly Quennell School, was demolished last week. (Photo courtesy Erik Warners)
Old career centre and school demolished in Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter

School district says building was decaying and was unsuitable for use

Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s two new pumper trucks, slated to be delivered in the fall, will have battery-powered idle-reduction technology. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo’s newest fire trucks will come with idle-reduction technology

Pumper trucks arriving from U.S.-based manufacturer will use battery power to save fuel

A raccoon prowls near a porch in north Nanaimo last fall. (News Bulletin file photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Attack on dog shows raccoons can be nasty creatures

We had to take our black lab to the emergency vet for treatment, says letter writer

The old career resource centre, formerly Quennell School, was demolished last week. (Photo courtesy Erik Warners)
Old career centre and school demolished in Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter

School district says building was decaying and was unsuitable for use

AstraZeneca vaccine is becoming available at B.C. pharmacies outside the Lower Mainland, as of Friday, April 9. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
Immunization program expands to five Nanaimo pharmacies

Residents 55-65-year-old can get their first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

Firefighters, including those from Cranberry volunteer department, are battling a blaze in the Nanaimo River Road area. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Dwelling destroyed, two taken to hospital after Nanaimo River Road blaze

Firefighers arrived to find dwelling and garage fully engulfed in flame at property south of Nanaimo

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

Most Read