This post was written by Deborah Willis, member of the Women’s Centre Artist in Residence Committee.
As attendees filtered through the doors for the Women’s Centre’s Annual General Meeting on April 11, they found easels and artists in the back corner. But instead of watching from afar as the artists created art, attendees were asked to put on an apron, take a brush, and choose a colour. They were then encouraged to make their own marks on a large canvas that will eventually be displayed at the Centre.
Six Calgary artists collaborated with the public on this art project, encouraging everyone who attended the AGM—even those who’d never picked up a brush before—to add their own touches and ideas. As one of the artists, Wendy Lees, described it, this project offered “a unique, hands-on creative experience to women and children that helped them feel more connected to one another, and to the Women’s Centre.”
The six local visual artists, Michelle Dyer, Samantha Fodor, Jennifer Jacoby, Wendy Lees, Christina Stein, and Paula Timm, came together as one group for the first time to work on this project. They intended this collaborative project to showcase what is possible when a community engages in creativity. As a group of artists who are all community-driven in their work and lives, they wanted to highlight the importance of women supporting each other and the power of creative expression. They were thrilled that their shared goals and values allowed many of them to meet for the first time that night, and brought them together as friends, artists and colleagues.
The six artists prepared in advance by mocking up a plan for part of the canvas, but were open to the ideas from the public as the AGM unfolded. Paula Timm said that she was impressed by how well people collaborated with each other. One of her favourite moments was when a ten-year-old girl teamed up with an adult to paint the same corner of the canvas.
She also pointed out how meaningful it can be to watch people who don’t think of themselves as artists pick up a brush and begin to create. “To make your mark on a canvas is a bold and brave endeavour, for artists and non-artists alike.”
For Christina Stein, the most engaging moments were when participants wrote down words on parchment, describing what the Women’s Centre means to them, with the knowledge that these words would later be incorporated into the mural. “It was an honour to witness women share themselves in this way. Some wrote powerful statements in large lettering, while others jotted down tight letters as if it were a whisper. In all, these women were courageous with sharing their experiences and trust with us. It is a privilege to act as a caretaker of these words.”
The six artists want to thank everyone brave enough to make their mark on this work. Many of the artists who coordinated this project will return to the Women’s Centre in June to host an Artist in Residence workshop. More details will be shared here as they become available!