Before the pandemic started, artist and teacher Jennifer Hicks spent five days in Aklavik helping the community paint a mural inside its youth centre.
It was the second community mural she’d facilitated – the first was in Sachs Harbour – as part of the Influencers Motivating Influencers program.
The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation sponsored the program, which brings artists, musicians, filmmakers, and magicians into communities to build mental health awareness and promote wellness.
Hicks was scheduled to complete murals in the four other Inuvialuit Settlement Region communities – Inuvik, Paulatuk, Tuktoyaktuk, and Ulukhaktok – before gatherings were cancelled and travel limited by Covid-19.
“I’m here right now guiding the kids through the design and painting of a wall mural inside their youth centre,” she told Cabin Radio from Aklavik in late February.
In both Aklavik and Sachs Harbour, Hicks worked with kids to paint maps of their towns inside community centres – but the project adapts to whatever each community wants, and who wants to be involved.
“So going forward for the next four communities, I’ve been told I might paint on a bedsheet or that I might paint on canvas, so that the murals are portable and can be used at different events,” she explained.
“Or I might paint on a wall. And again, when I say I paint really I’m just lending my skills and helping to guide the community or children to design and paint.”
Three of the students involved in the Aklavik mural – Paxton Gordon, Kyler Irish, and Jesse Irish – shyly told Cabin Radio they had chosen to paint things like mountains, rocks, grass, their houses, water, trees, and animals that they see around their community. They used food colouring in water, pencils and markers, and acrylic paint.
“I love every minute of this work,” Hicks wrote in a follow-up email. “It’s a mixture of inspiring others, and learning from others, and seeing and hearing valuable stories first-hand in places with knowledge and experiences of great value.
“The method I use generally stays the same but the theme of the mural can change depending on what the community wants.
“So if a group tells me they want life-sized drum dancers, or to depict a story from history, or to make a diagram of a caribou with all the parts labelled in their traditional language, that’s what I would guide them to do – within the best of my ability and if the materials are available.”