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Youths and seniors collaborate on Nanaimo Art Gallery public art project

‘Glass Box Story’ painted panels and text to be installed across street from gallery
Ava Hornby and Tori Djakovic at work on their painting Winter Crystal Victorian Lace in the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s ArtLab studio. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)

A new Nanaimo Art Gallery public art project is connecting teens and seniors with the help of some young emerging artists.

On April 23 the NAG is unveiling Glass Box Story, a series of three seven-foot-tall painted panels and accompanying text displayed on the storefront across the street from the gallery.

Each painting was done by a separate pair of teenage artists working collaboratively with a local senior with guidance from a youth artist mentor and overseen by NAG art education coordinator Yvonne Vander Kooi. The works reference personal items of significance that the teenagers and seniors brought forward and discussed over video conference.

Vander Kooi said “in this time of disconnect” she wanted to help better connect the youths to the community and said it’s been “powerful” to see the relationships form across the generations.

“There’s a lot of reciprocity there,” she said. “It’s not just one group teaching another. Everyone’s sharing and teaching each other and having fun together through this creative process.”

One of the panels, called Winter Crystal Victorian Lace, is inspired by ski goggles, a healing energy crystal and a Victorian doll. It’s the work of Ava Hornby, 12, and Tori Djakovic, 14, two past participants of the NAG’s Junior Code Group, along with senior Cathie Campion. The youths agree that the generational gap wasn’t an impediment to the art making.

“It wasn’t uncomfortable at all. She was really easy to talk to,” Hornby said of Campion. “She was very open and optimistic about the project, too.”

“She was really nice and her excitement made this project even more fun due to the fact that she had so many bright ideas,” Djakovic added.

For her part, Campion said she’s been impressed with Hornby and Djakovic’s “maturity and caring and kindness.”

“My connection with this entire project has been one of joy and hope,” she said. “And particularly with the pandemic it’s been tough. It’s been tough being confined to home, and to watch something emerge has just been lovely.”

Charlotte Taylor has been mentoring Djakovic and Hornby. She’s a UBC creative writing student who also served as writer-in-residence for the NAG’s Dazzle Camouflage program last summer. She said she’s impressed by how her team has overcome the barriers of distance and age to create their work.

“They’ve done a really great job engaging despite some differences,” she said. “It’s surprising, I think, what we all have in common, especially during this time. There’s so many things that people are feeling that are similar.”

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