Friday, August 6, 2010

A Last Hurrah

Thursday was our last day of the Public Art Program. I emailed Catherine to tell her that I was coming and realized that this would be the last time I would RSVP her; suddenly, RSVP’ing did not seem so bad.

I was welcomed at a grassy spot outside the Roundhouse Community Centre to Stephanie French, our head chef for that day, preparing food with Jennifer Sarkar. The menu included a salad, garlic bread, flatbread from the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company, and pies from Aphrodite’s Organic Café and Pie Shop. All the food that day was local and organic and, thanks to Stephanie, wonderfully delectable! Other participants had also been invited to contribute food so Neudis brought a flan-like dessert, and Jennifer brought noodles with eggs and other yummy ingredients.

We had three guests from ISS join us: Evgenia, a volunteer at ISS; Chris Friesen, Executive Director of ISS; and his assistant, Helen Aqua. They added to the merriment and picnicking, and we listened as each of the Walking Home Yaletown participants described their final projects. We had known what some people were doing but it was neat to learn what had inspired everyone else, and I truly look forward to seeing everyone’s projects soon!

After we had finished our delicious picnic, Veda Hille joined us and told us a bit about herself. After training in classical piano from a young age, she switched gears and attended Emily Carr. There, she was forced to create art pieces and a friend of hers suggested she apply this mindset to music. Taking her friend’s advice, she attempted to write music and immediately found something that clicked with her and so, Veda Hille’s role as a songwriter began to emerge. She has since written pieces for dance companies, local theatre, and has been producing her own albums since 1992.

Veda Hille’s songs evoke sadness and happiness, all through her tremendous sense of humour, intelligence, family life, and love for her surroundings and culture. Veda is able to bring so many different aspects of life into her music and this was apparent even through the few precious songs she was able to share with us. It was like riding on an emotional rollercoaster (of the very best kind), but by the end of it the room was filled with laughter. Marie Lopez, the woman who has arranged for us to use Roundhouse space, whom we are so grateful towards, was able to join us and she was literally keeling over with laughter. Chris and Helen from ISS who had first appeared to us so prim and proper were yelling out – even they could not contain themselves. Two women working at the centre were so drawn by Veda’s music that we found them listening outside the door. Veda Hill’s profound comments and words resonated within us all and after an hour was over, we were left spellbound and yearning for more of Veda Hille’s enchanting melodies.

Heads spinning with thoughts and musical satisfaction, we sat back on the grass and Catherine began to tell us about her life. She attended the University of Guelph and spent her first year exploring adulthood. She decided to take her third year off and spent that time travelling around Australia, New Zealand, and Bali. In the years that followed, she participated in Summer Language Bursary Programs at Université Laval and the University of Victoria, programs where students spend a five weeks in French immersion programs. After growing up in a small bilingual community in Ontario and keeping up her French in Pierre Trudeau’s French legacy programs, Catherine was one of seven students chosen from the University of Guelph to partake in a pilot program offered through the university in Paris. The University of Guelph wanted to do a test with seven students, all with varying French language abilities (Catherine could speak the most French) to determine whether they should open an exchange program to Paris for all their students. This year in Paris qualified as a year of education at the university with the students studying five courses which included: Food and Wine, learning to dine in hole-in-the-walls and five star restaurants; Social Interaction, speaking to museum guards or a person on the subway and gauging the different levels of their response; and Photography and Film. This was one of Catherine’s best experiences and was, in essence, an experiential learning program. Since then, Catherine has helped numerous others plan their own programs but she decided to dedicate a year of her life to implementing her own programs, inspired by her life-changing year in Paris.

The fact that Walking Home Project Yaletown is Catherine’s own pilot program for Walking Home Projects is extraordinary to me. We have been through ten sessions and although I missed the first four sessions, jumping in at the fifth proved no object as the participants were so friendly and willing to recap what I had missed. Catherine has also designed the program so that each session stands alone and is not necessarily dependant on knowledge gained from previous sessions, this made it very easy for me to step in and I never felt as if I was at a disadvantage to the other participants. However, although the sessions are not meant to rely on each other, I also found that after attending the last six sessions consecutively, there was a build-up of knowledge and an increase of AHA! moments as the sessions are also incredibly cohesive.

The level of detail and planning that goes into each day seems so polished and we are always learning during every second of the program. Catherine told us that the manner in which she has organized the program and facilitates each session is another thing from which she hopes we have learned; even though she has not explicitly taught us the life skills she has picked up through her travelling and experiential learning, she is teaching us through demonstration.

Walking Home Project Yaletown is much more than a project to learn about public art, and not only did we learn tremendous amounts about our own city, but Catherine has tried to instill the meaning of her life values and lessons in us. Who knew learning about public art and life lessons could go hand-in-hand? To Catherine Pulkinghorn, on behalf of the Walking Home Project Yaletown participants, our sincerest thank you. Not to be forgotten, thank you also to all the other wonderful individuals that made this program the ideal experiential learning environment it was. Laurie Dawson taught us all about telling stories and audio recording, even featuring us on her radio show at CJSF 90.1 FM, and making us feel like local celebrities. As she approached each of us and respectfully asked if we wouldn’t mind being recorded, it was difficult to resist her beaming smile and even as one stumbled along, trying to find the words to describe why this particular art piece was so special, Laurie was always there nodding her head and giving us the confidence to blurt out whatever was on our minds (thanks also for all the administrative work you did!). To Bali Singh, thank you for being our wonderful and dedicated photographer. Bali would quietly disappear for moments at a time and we would spy her balancing on some log or ledge, trying to get the perfect angle to take a photo of us. Her insightful comments into the public art pieces gave us wonderful perspective and often caused us to think differently about the pieces after experiencing one of those AHA! moments that crept up on us when we least expected them.

Walking Home Project Yaletown fuelled creative inspiration, life aspirations, and a deeper self awareness. Thank you for sharing this experience with me.

By Justine Lee

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