Last week the Summer Heat Youth group began working with artist Alex Ruiz Ramirez to draft the mural design for the shipping containers that form the north wall of the Children’s Garden on the Strathcona Campus. The shipping containers hold the emergency supplies for the School and Community Centre, so even though they sit side by side like a set, one is under the jurisdiction of VSB and the other under that of the City and Park Board (that’s actually three different governing bodies, for those of you who are counting). Hats off to Liza Tam (Strathcona Community Centre) and Brenda Racanelli (Park Board), David Lewis (City of Vancouver) and Jason Eng (Vancouver School Board) for coming together on this project.
This is a project that is dear to many kids and staff at Strathcona. When we began the We Grow Where We’re Planted map at the Multicultural Fair in March, I was blown away by the number of kids who said that the school, or somewhere on the school grounds, was their favourite place in the neighbourhood. Many of them mentioned the garden.
Childcare Coordinator Veronica Light is well aware of the importance of the garden in the lives of the kids at the school and in her care — and also well aware of the staff’s struggles to keep it safe and maintained in spite of off-hours use that can include drinking, drug use, and even sometimes as a latrine. Veronica quietly welcomes campers who are good ‘night stewards’, respectful and protective of the space as sacred for kids; and said to me way back in February that they wished for a mural to enhance the sense of place, encouraging everyone to see the space as sacred to kids at all hours.
So when Alex sat down with the Summer Heat Youth for their brainstorming sessions, he talked about these aspects of the project and asked the youth to turn back the clock a little bit, to think about what they loved about the garden when they played in it, imagine it with those younger eyes again, and bring their hopes and wishes to it. What do they love about this neighbourhood? What do they hope for the futures of the kids who are playing in the garden now? When I joined them for the first hour or so, everyone was sitting on the benches in the garden intently sketching out their ideas with pencil and paper as Alex went around, quietly encouraging and engaging.
The mural was completed at the end of July, and the difference in the garden has surprised me — I knew that the sense of place and presence of the kids would be stronger, but the magnitude of the change is really stunning. The Summer Heat Youth did all the design work and painting, and I was touched to see the way they acknowledged the land and waters in their imagery — the salmon, salmon eggs, trees — and also the human world — bridge, houses, playground.
Deep thanks to the Summer Heat Youth, Lianne the program coordinator, Gabe the youth coordinator, Alex the artist, and all the behind-the-scenes folks who helped make it happen. May it bring joy to the garden space and everyone through it for many years to come.