By April Caverhill, New Extreme Mentorship Program Coordinator

Artistic expression was in abundance this spring as our New Extreme youth groups and artist mentors collaborated on their projects. This year’s students were from SJ Burnside Alternative Education, and Central Middle School. Having been witness to much of the art making I can speak to how meaningful this program has been for everyone involved! I’ve learned so much from this year’s artists and students, and I am already looking forward to next year’s partnerships.

Nicole-Mandryk, Leading the Beading Circle. Photo courtesy of Nicole.

Art teacher Tara Deleeuw had this to say about SJ Burnside’s collaboration with Nicole Mandryk:

“As part of the New Extreme program, students from SJ Burnside Alternative Education had the privilege of working alongside artist Nicole Mandryk as she shared her love of beading, art and culture. Our mentorship began with time spent on the land with the encouragement to learn from what we observe when we take time to be still and engage with our surroundings. From this experience and through reflecting on the concept of symbiosis, students created imagery for their individual pieces. Nicole worked with us, teaching traditional Anishinaabe beading and guiding us in the process of transforming our rough sketches and ideas into colourful, intricate works of art.

Though students each worked on their own projects, there was a beautiful sense of community present throughout the mentorship. The commonality of task united those present, and conversation flowed between the personal and ideological. Students reminisced of time spent with family members, learning various handicrafts and one student even began beading an image of her late father’s artwork. As beading is a prominent Indigenous art form, conversations around cultural appropriation were had among those around the table, between both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Woven into these conversations were vulnerability, the questioning of assumptions and attentive listening, which contributed to a greater understanding of one another.

Students described the time spent beading with Nicole as meditative, relaxing and addictive! Many students worked on their projects outside of Nicole’s scheduled times, both at school and at home. It was interesting to see their work evolve with some students creating mixed media pieces incorporating needle felting, acrylic and embroidery on canvas and exploration with beads of varying scale and material. Nicole was open to these variations and wholeheartedly embraced these unique expressions of creativity.

We’re glad to have been a part of the New Extreme mentorship program and I feel that as a group we experienced a little of what a mutually beneficial expression of symbiosis can be. As organisms in the natural world thrive on connection, as a group we were able to give and receive valuable feedback, both in art and in life, creating a better version of our desired expression than what we would have on our own. The symbiosis of an art collective.”

Images: Mural making in progress with students.

At Central Middle School, teachers Julie Gennai and Ray Forsberg and their classes made mural magic this year with their mentor artist Jamin Zuroski. With good humour and enthusiasm Jamin nurtured the students’ confidence, encouraging them to design their mural based on what they wished to express. As the weeks went past, Ms. Gennai’s classroom was transformed into an enormous studio, with dozens of young artists and their teachers working alongside Jamin as they transformed eight huge panels into a bold work of art full of colour and movement.

Here’s a bit of what the group wrote about their finished mural, which features three apple trees:

“This mural was created to give acknowledgment to the plentifulness our earth has to offer and how we can collectively take care of it. The apple trees highlight one of many important resources we share that provide us and many other species with nourishment and gratitude. Each apple was designed by a student, highlighting their current reflections of this project, and how they see positive environmental and societal change today and in the future. The ravens remind us of our ability to transform our minds and how we positively steward our surrounding territories. We take what we need and leave enough for others and the generations to come.”

The New Extreme program is generously funded by the RBC Emerging Artist Project.

Feature image: New Extreme Mural 2023 on the exterior of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s building.