The Beauty of the North

I had been asked to say a few words at the opening of The Beauty of the North exhibition at the MacDonald Island Community Art Gallery.  It was a bit of a rush to get there as I had to swing up the hill to Westwood School to drop Ben off at Cub Scouts - yet another way that he's becoming a chip off the old block (I was a Cub Scout in the mid 1970s).

Walking into the long and wide hallway on the second floor of the the Suncor Community Leisure Centre I was struck by the number of people gathered for the celebration and the size of the featured pieces.


Backing up a few days, students from a number of schools participated in Alberta Arts Days by working with an artist to create a large canvas that should represent their perspective of what is beautiful about the north.

"They worked all day on Saturday," said coordinator Ana Maria Mendez.  "Working from 8 am to 5 pm, they barely even took a break for lunch. It was wonderful."


"Alberta Arts Days is an annual celebration of our culture, heritage, artistic diversity and provincial pride," explains the website operated by the Culture and Community Spirit ministry led by Lindsay Blackett.

Accompanying each of the six large canvases is a photographic timeline of the artists in action.  It's a lovely touch that illustrates the wonderful fact that this was an "art happening".


As you penetrate into the space two very different paintings greet you. École McTavish student working with artist Megan Green highlight some of iconic animal species that help define life in the north, while Holy Trinity students collaborating with artist Megan Storrar chose to capture a stunning river view.


"Is that me fishing?" I asked.


The piece created by the students of the Fort McMurray Islamic School took my breath away.  Artist Jane Mennigke inspired them in a way that resulted in striking colour choices and strong composition.  The smiles on some of the animals are priceless.


Next was a painting in progress that I had briefly seen on Facebook over the weekend.  Working with artist Uzma Nadeem, students from Dr. Clark School juxtoposed the architectural icons of our city with the stunning aurora borealis.

"Is the painting for sale," I asked Principal Jeff Porter.

"Sure," he said smiling.  "You can buy it for one million dollars."

If I had the million it would be on my wall.


Next was a vibrant fall scene prepared by the students of Greely Road School with direction from artist Rebecca Tagg.  A view of the painted forest, I would defy anyone looking at this piece to discern that it was a collaborative effort of junior high school students.  It is stunning, capturing the fiery beauty of our unforgettable change of seasons.


The final painting featured in The Beauty of the North exhibition that runs until October 23 is by another group of students from Holy Trinity who worked with artist Anita Choudhary.  They decided to focus on the beauty of ethnic diversity in our northern community.  What a wonderful perspective.

I would encourage everyone to come and experience this collection in person as my photographs don't really do it justice.  It celebrates the creative talents of our young citizens and shines a light on their perspective of the beauty that surrounds us.  Also, it is a striking example of what is possible through creative collaboration.

Special thanks to the Artists Forum for their stewardship and leadership in nurturing visual art activity and development in Wood Buffalo. And thanks to my good friend and Council colleague, Dave Kirschner and his wife Iris - two stalwart advocates and supporters of the arts - for joining us at the grand opening.

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