Once Upon A Time...
Julie walked to work every day, and each time she passed through the Richmond underpass, she saw an opportunity. The underpass was a dark and grimy place. She knew that ART could transform it.
Julie brought this idea to local artists Melanie and Alejandro, and together, they created a proposal of collaborative murals for the wide community of London through the city’s Neighbourhood Decision Making (NDM) program. Many residents voted for many amazing community projects. The Richmond Underpass Community Arts Project won!
Julie, Alejandro, and Melanie invited representatives from 18 nonprofit organizations to an evening of song, connection, reflection, and theatre! During this creative session, twelve themes were identified, and guests organized themselves in mixed groups. There was a common desire to unpack subjects such as systemic oppression, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, poverty... community building. They logged in their calendars dozens of workshops to take place in summer 2020.
The first group, organized by London International Academy, Nokee Kwe, and Mind your Mind, invited people they served in their organizations to a three day workshop and started the painting of two murals exploring stories of personal transformation as a theme.
An unexpected turn. Locally and globally, a pandemic caught everyone by surprise. As the virus began spreading, cities began to shut down. People were asked to isolate from one another. Julie, Alejandro, Melanie, and Ryan considered postponing the mural project to 2021.
While some people benefited from slowing down during lockdowns, other people began dealing with other problems like poverty, mental health, and safety. On top of it, police brutality ignited a wave of protests locally and around the world. On the streets, masses of people demanded change. Julie, Alejandro, Melanie, and Ryan, decided to shift the focus of the project and instead, provide Londoners a 13-week online program, a platform to reflect and to build a sense of community resilience.
A fabulous group of 90 people signed up to the program. The first four weeks focused on introducing arts as a form of self-reflection and connection with one another. Through virtual hangouts, guest speakers, and creative activities, participants began to express themselves through art.
After four weeks of playing, drawing, writing and listening to stories, participants brainstormed the most relevant themes the project should explore. Thirteen themes were identified.
Each theme was matched with an artistic medium and a genre. Arts media explored included painting, drawing, collaging, land art, typography and performance. Art genres included cubism, surrealism, impressionism, dadaism, and so forth. Participants chose which groups they wanted to be part of, and they were given creative exercises to explore their medium and genre..
Participants in each group submitted sketches that informed the overall image of each mural. The overall mural image was then divided in sections. Each participant chose a section and filled it with more story and symbolism. All the sections from the 13 mural panels were collected and the lead artist Melanie Schambach collaged them together digitally.
As the fall season arrived, participants, neighbours, family and friends worked together in the Richmond underpass to clean the walls, scrape old paint, and paint a beautiful backdrop for the works of art.
Poetry, storytelling, bagpipes, drums, and live music unveiled the final creations as a big celebration of community resilience.
From then onwards, Julie and many other neighbours were thrilled to walk through this public gallery on a daily basis.