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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 3, November/December 2004

Lord Roberts School multicultural mural

by Catherine Charnell

The south-facing wall of Lord Roberts Elementary School, on Bidwell Street, in Vancouver’s West End, which was previously targeted by graffiti, is now a multicultural mural. The mural project involved students from Kindergarten to Grade 7.

The mural project represents the extremely multicultural student population of Lord Roberts Elementary School. Forty-three countries and 37 languages from around the world are represented by the student population. Many students speak more than one language; some, three or more. Lord Roberts Elementary School is in the heart of Vancouver’s West End. On the students’ doorstep are Stanley Park and English Bay. Many students live close to the school; multiethnic Davie and Denman streets are their reference points. Some students live in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour, a newly developed area of Vancouver along the south shore of Burrard Inlet. Their neighbours include the Bayshore Inn and the Vancouver Rowing Club to the west and the PanPacific Hotel to the east. Until recently, students attending Lord Roberts came from as far away as Yaletown, also a newly developed area of downtown Vancouver, built on the Expo 86 lands. Elementary students who live in Yaletown now attend a new school named Elsie Roy Elementary School; secondary students attend King George Secondary School.

Teachers were invited to direct their students to submit designs that would depict the students’ cultures. Once the drawings were received from the student body, a committee looked over the drawings and chose 11 intermediate students to be on a design team. The design-team students worked with artist-in-residence Richard Tetrault to incorporate into the mural drawings from the entire student body. The design team consisted of Mandy Behnia, Lydia Chou, Erika and Julia Cottrell, Neil Goltiano, Angela Hu, Michelle Jaramillo, Alexandra Kolesnikova, Yan Marquez Lobik, Marimo Miyamoto, and Andrea Vukobrat. Most of the Grade 7 students who worked on the project have gone on to study at King George Secondary, located on the corner of Barclay and Denman.

The project began with a proposal for an artist-in-residence grant from the Vancouver School Board. First Baptist Church, of Vancouver, provided additional funding, and Cloverdale Paint generously discounted several cans of paint for the project.

Richard Tetrault, an experienced mural painter, was chosen for the project. His murals are visible throughout Vancouver, in community centres, housing developments, banks, and schools. Tetrault has explored various dimensions of collaboration while working with groups including Arts in Action, a Vancouver-based public art group, post-butoh Kokoro Dance, and schools. In 1998, Tetrault was artist co-ordinator for the community-based Walls of Change, a six-month project designed to give the community of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver an opportunity to express both its uniqueness and its concerns. Other mural locations include The Jim Green Residence, Carnegie Centre, The Four Corners Bank, Ray Cam, Strathcona and Britannia Community Centres, The Four Sisters’ Co-operative, and Keefer Street Overpass.

Once the design was agreed upon by all involved, the work went quickly and smoothly. The weather in May co-operated, and the community of Lord Roberts School came together to create a work of art that represents involvement, validation, respect, and inclusion of all cultures. Care was taken by the design team to keep the images as close as possible to the children’s original drawings. Students could immediately identify their designs on the mural.

The statements by the students and parent volunteers speak volumes in describing what the project meant for them. An intermediate student, Julia Cottrell, said she felt honoured after it was finished and that every time she looks at it she feels great. Her twin sister, Erika, said that she was "delighted to be involved and loved to feel the stroke of the brush." What was important to Angela Hu was seeing the excitement and happiness in her parents’ eyes when they saw the mural. Several parents helped with the painting of the mural, and what they had to say was touching and poignant. Kelly Jogpal said, "When I was painting the mural, it was a nice feeling, seeing the students and parents working together to make the community come together as one! It is beautiful to see what a community can do when they come together." Also, in the words of another parent, Marija Igic Antonijevic, "It is beautiful because it is something that comes from the heart."

Catherine Charnell teaches at Lord Roberts Elementary School, Vancouver.