Northern Secondary art students creating a literacy mural in Sturgeon Falls.

Mural brings literacy to life

STURGEON FALLS – The Literacy Alliance of West Nipissing office is getting one huge exterior make-over as students from Northern Secondary School partner with the Alliance and local artist Clayton Windatt to make something beautiful out of a blank cement block canvas.

The project was the dream of Alliance executive director Nanditta Colbear who says she saw the potential of the wall before the organization moved to its Holditch Street location, and made sure being able to use it for a mural was part of the rental agreement.

“I’m passionate about youth literacy,” Colbear said, “and I had a dream that this wall would tell a visual story of what literacy means to young people.”

Before the project began, Colbear sat down with 17 art students to outline her concepts. “I told them about literacy and they told me about art,” she said.

The final design the students came up with depicts a sun shining through a tree and within each of the lengthening sunbeams there is a different graphic representing what the students saw as the significance of literacy to their lives.

“Each student was assigned one panel to tell their own story,” said visual arts teacher Nicole Wallace. “The panels are meant to inspire, encourage and support adults and other young people who are learning to read.”

The students started the project last September and will see it come to fruition on May 24 when the literacy wall has its official reveal.

“It’s turned out to be a real cross curricular project,” Wallace said. “Not only have the students been learning about the artistic concepts, but they have also learned cooperation, networking with professional artists, the mandates of community agencies as well as gaining an appreciation for their community and its culture.

In working with Colbear on their visual literacy concepts, Wallace says the students also learned more about the economic and social issues of the community and how the inability to read affects people’s lives.

“This project has already started a whole new discussion on literacy,” said Colbear. “The students talked about it among themselves and at home and found that some of their own family members struggled with reading. We’ve talked about how literacy can build self-respect and most important how we can inspire others to learn.”

For Colbear, the mural is all about inspiration.

“The panels speak to different age groups and different cultures. It’s bold and in-your-face and tells people not to be ashamed of facing literacy challenges, but to be proud to come in that door to learn,” she said.

Once the students had completed the design for their panels on paper, Windatt drew the outline of the entire mural on the Literacy Alliance wall and the students went to work to bring their literacy story to life.

“It’s an amazing project,” said Windatt, executive director of North Bay’s White Water Gallery. “It speaks to fiction, children’s books, to culture, and to the past and the future. It really shows how the students feel about reading, and the more you look at it, the more things you can pick out about how literacy impacts on people’s lives.”

In Ontario, Colbear says, 42 per cent of adults struggle with literacy issues.

“These student artists are making a statement,” she said. “This mural is saying that literacy is important, that young people should stay in school, and that a person is never to old to learn. If you dream it, you can do it.”

Story by Laurel J. Campbell

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