Making change through art

Arts, Culture & Heritage

Mentorship program helps kids see their interests in murals.

Community art creates community change, and young people in Winnipeg are helping influence that change through the Wall to Wall Mural Festival’s Mentorship Program.

“Public artwork is for communities. Instead of just showing up and putting whatever you want onto a wall, [you have to] think about, ‘Who is going to see this, and who is it for?’” says Annie Beach, an rtist who participated in this year’s Mentorship Program. “[You have to] connect with community members who are going to be in this area and give them a chance to play a part in what’s going to be put up on the wall; it gives them a sense of pride and self.”

Beach’s mural, called Moccasin Slippers and Dakota Skippers, was developed in consultation with youth through the Mentorship Program. Featuring pastel-coloured lady slipper orchids and butterflies, it is painted on Bunzy’s Auto Body behind Thunderbird House in downtown Winnipeg.

Wall to Wall is a mural and culture festival held each September. Produced by Synonym Art Collective, the festival is responsible for some of the most vibrant murals in our city. The mentorship component of the festival sees Synonym partner with Graffiti Art Programming (GAP), a charity that offers educational arts and cultural programs for youth. The Mentorship Program has been giving youth a chance to be involved with mural development since 2017.

“Starting with a concept, being able to influence or have input into a mural… gives you that idea that your small thought can have some influence,” explains Pat Lazo, GAP’s Artistic Director. “Seeing a portion of your idea in a mural is a physical manifestation of that idea, and it helps youth take some ownership of the community.”

Seeing a portion of your idea in a mural is a physical manifestation of that idea, and it helps youth take some ownership of the community.

Pat Lazo, Graffiti Art Programming’s Artistic Director

Through the Mentorship Program, artists conduct workshops with youth in a variety of locations. Beach’s workshops were held at GAP’s Portage Place location called Studio 393, as well as at Turtle Island Neighbourhood Centre, where they engaged youth in collaboration with Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, a community service provider located in the North End.

“The artists consult with youth to see what their issues are with the community, what sort of things that they would like remedied, and ways that they can make change,” Lazo says.

For her workshops, Beach focused on the concept of layering and asked participants to think about places that were meaningful, as well as memories involving nature. Participants made renderings of different animals and plants using tissue paper collage. These pieces then influenced the mural in terms of colour and composition. Read more about the mural below.

Peatr Thomas also mentored youth in this year’s program. His piece, Sakihta Pimatisiwin (Cree for “love life”), features black and white imagery punctuated by lines of vivid red. It is also painted on Bunzy’s Auto Body. Read more about the mural in the sidebar.

“The mentoring programs are important to me because it is something I didn’t have growing up,” Thomas says.

Public art made an impact on Thomas as a child. Growing up on his mother’s and father’s reservations – Cross Lake and Bloodvein – he remembers coming to Winnipeg as a boy and seeing an Indigenous-inspired mural for the first time; this experience helped him realize it’s possible to be an artist.

According to Lazo, this is an important part of Wall to Wall’s Mentorship Program.

“[Youth] get a glimpse into the artist’s practice. They get to see that coming from sketches and drawings in your bedroom, it can evolve and become a professional practice,” he says.

Learn more:


Artist Annie Beach working on her mural.

by Annie Beach

This piece is inspired in part by the Ojibwe creation story about a girl whose community is sick. She journeys to a neighbouring community to get medicine. She arrives at night, and rather than wait until morning, she decides to trek home as soon as possible. As she’s walking in the snow, she loses her moccasin slippers and her feet are cut by the ice and snow. She’s determined and makes it home, and everyone is healed because of the medicine.

“The following spring, moccasin slipper flowers bloom where her feet touched. So it’s this really nice story about healing and helping folks,” says artist Annie Beach.


Artist Peatr Thomas working on his mural. Both murals were developed in consultation with youth through Wall to Wall Mural Festival’s Mentorship Program and are on Bunzy’s Auto Body, close to the corner of Higgins Avenue and Main Street.

by Peatr Thomas

Sakihta Pimatisiwin means “love life” in Cree.

“It’s a phrase that I’ve been using since high school… The teachings [are], ‘Nothing in life is perfect,’” says artist Peatr Thomas.

At first glance, the right half of the predominantly black and white mural appears to be the mirror image of the left, only in reverse.

“They say inside of all of us, there’s a good wolf and a bad wolf. You have to decide, each day, every moment, ‘Which wolf will you feed, the good one or the bad one?’ And you know, there can’t be one without the other; it is similar to yin and yang.”

There are three red lines connecting three circles, both of which represent mind, body and spirit. The circles touch the ground because we all come from the earth. The lines start out straight to represent the innocence of childhood, grow wavy to represent the challenges of adulthood, and then straighten once more to represent the peace which is hopefully obtained in later years.

Recipient: Graffiti Art Programming
Program: Wall to Wall Mentorship Program
Grant: $70,000 drawn from the Moffat Family Fund, from the Nourishing Potential Fund, and from Donor-Advised Funds including the Gerald and Debbie Labossiere Family Fund

This story is featured in the Fall 2019 issue of our Working Together magazine. Download or view the full issue on our Publications page.

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