Beverly Long

Button blanket symbol of unity

NANAIMO - Art grant helps students, teachers and professional artists create installation.

A giant multimedia work based on Coast Salish culture now graces an entire wall of Nanaimo District Secondary School’s cafeteria.

The My Bowl is Half Full button blanket, created from ceramic, cedar and electronic media, was unveiled during a ceremony hosted at the school Thursday. The idea for the piece, which received a $10,000 grant from Arts in the Classroom, came from Beverly Long, NDSS fine arts instructor and project coordinator. It involved more than 600 students from NDSS, Learning Alternatives, Woodlands Secondary School, Raven Lelum and other education institutions including Vancouver Island University, plus professional artists Jackson Robertson, Graham Sheehan and others.

Grants from Arts in the Classroom – part of ArtStarts in Schools, a not-for-profit organization that promotes art and creativity to B.C.’s youth – expose young people to professional arts experiences in the classroom.

Central to the nine-by-three-metre work is an eagle carved in cedar surrounded by dozens of small ceramic tiles, buttons and pots created by students from various schools and cultures that participated.

“This was the perfect project last year, considering all the changes at our school site, knowing that Woodlands was closing, knowing that we were getting hundreds of their staff and students to come in,” said Geoff Steel, NDSS principal. “The aboriginal content, for me, was a critical driver of this. We’re on Snuneymuxw territory … within the school there’s very little representation of our aboriginal culture and heritage in this area. I think it’s very important. We have over 200 aboriginal students here. We have an aboriginal staff that works with those students and there’s a lot of pride.”

The piece also includes two flat screens scrolling images of students’ achievements, activities and successes.

The entire work and its title represents the idea of the student as a vessel and the carved eagle depicted soaring on the winds of change represents a message of a future built on hope, love and faith.

“Have faith that you can do this. It’s a very beautiful cycle that happens in our kids’ faces every day because they come with so many challenges. I’m very conscious of how the journey through the piece has really been such a symbol for our student body to learn how you have to have courage,” Long said.

Massimo Richers, a student who worked on the project, said it was Long’s infectious passion combined with that of the students and artists which culminated in “a symbol of present and future unity.”

“I think the biggest aspect of this was the unification it brought about,” Richers said. “Having so many students working together on one project – so many professional artists as well – you really get a sense of the magnitude of this.”

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