Yellowknife students created art with Carla Rae Taylor then a song with Leela Gilday as the Messy Book Program began at Mildred Hall School.
The YK1 school district says it has partnered with the Arctic Rose Foundation to introduce the program, which Gilday said is becoming well-established in Nunavut and now expanding into the NWT.
Running four days a week, the Messy Book Program offers “after-school, culturally specific art programs” to youth in grades 5 to 8, YK1 stated.
Taylor, an artist and muralist who now lives in Edmonton but grew up in Yellowknife and attended Mildred Hall School, spent Thursday afternoon using photos and words from magazines to help create vision boards with students.
The boards are “based on their ideas and dreams and visions for their lives, so it’s a really good space to dig deeper into their identity,” Taylor said.
“We’re seeing a lot of pictures of nature, or maybe sports or activities they like. You’ll see things like family or friends, or words pieced together to express how they’re feeling.
“It’s a very important space for them to be able to share their thoughts and ideas and express themselves creatively.”
Gilday, a singer-songwriter who has twice won the Juno Award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year, added: “They’ve been working on their vision boards and their self-portraits and self-reflections, and then we brainstormed ideas for a song that represents something very unique and important to them.
“They’ll have something beautiful that they made and can feel proud of.”
‘Youth really thrive’
The Messy Book Program started in 2018 in Rankin Inlet. The Arctic Rose Foundation, which runs the program, was founded by Inuk singer-songwriter Susan Aglukark, another winner of multiple Junos.
YK1 says it hopes the Messy Book Program creates “safe spaces for Indigenous youth to explore healthy emotional expression and cultural connection through art.”
Gilday said there aren’t many programs that attempt to create a safe space focused on artistic expression, calling this one “a beautiful thing.”
“As a guest artist coming in, my job is not to teach them a lesson or anything like that, it’s more just to share my own journey as an Indigenous artist,” she said.
“As Indigenous people, we all share this colonial legacy of trauma. Our kids are all impacted by that.
“Having a space where they can express themselves through the arts is a very beautiful way for them to embrace their own voice, embrace their strengths and beauty and have some fun.”
“This is my first time doing the Messy Book Program,” said Taylor.
“I took the training with Susan and her group in March and it was fabulous training. They had all sorts of amazing speakers and it was just really great preparation for this position.
“It feels wonderful to come and share my artistic skills and to see how the youth really thrive in that environment, in a place where they feel heard and feel like they can express themselves and feel comfortable to do so.”
Maggie Davies, a teacher at Mildred Hall School, said students “seem to be really enjoying it.”
“It’s been really cool to get these little sneak peeks of what they’ve been working on. You can see, even popping in here and there, how much they’re enjoying the time,” Davies said.
“It seems to be a real space of community and creativity.”