In 2007 I came to Webequie with a hope that I could teach something. MarilynField, of DAREarts Foundation, a charity that fosters empowerment for at-risk children and youth through the arts, put me on the teaching path. I didn't expect to be a teacher. I was and am an artist. Until now, my art was specifically to express MY feelings, discoveries and wishes. Now, those impulses are mixed with the joy of discovering the richness in the youths of this world.
That first year, the students were reeling from unbearable loss. The suicides in their communities were still fresh in their minds. They, with the support of their community, their band, teachers, elders, and DAREarts, created a multi-media performance called "Agidamo and Jenna" which was also documented on video by Peter Elliott and the student camera-personnel. Year Two, Agidamo and Jenna became a short live drama, featuring the students and students as crew. Even though this was a different group of students, the artists from the year before turned up as mentors for the second group. The documentary continued to be shot through out, and "Agidamo and Jenna" the film is featured on Wawate Online.
This is Year Three: the digital art clinic. This is just the beginning of a new direction for many of the students at Simon Jacob. Computers can truly be the opening to a whole new world, as well as a window to the soul, if used properly. The students had been lent digital cameras year one and two, and they now have a good handle on digital photography. The computers in Mr. Eric Tu's class were fitted with Photoshop, and the images were downloaded onto the computers.
Year Three was time to look at self-identity, self-confidence and the future. We asked them three questions: What gives you strength? What do you want for yourself and your community? Do you have a self-identity?
When they weren't working on the computers or out in the field, they were working with Glenn Marais of Music In Mind, a gifted songwriter and musician who connected up with DAREarts to write a companion song for the images. They wrote the lyrics, recorded the song and wove in traditional drumming and singing. The entire school became partners in the process. "Don't Stop" is an anthem to keep going, to have the confidence to carry on no matter what.
The message I got from their work is that they are ready to move on. To finish. To train. To make good lives for themselves and their children. That community and family is vital to them, that it gives them strength. There is a lot of desire there. And heaps of talent and determination. I couldn't be more proud of these young people.
I'd like to thank the Principal, Mary Gardiner, Mr. Tu and the fantastic teachers of Simon Jacob Memorial School for their amazing support. Thanks to the Elders and Community Members who showed their love for their kids. I'd also like to say that this year would not have been possible without the help of the Ontario Arts Council. Thanks also to Glenn Marais for joining forces this year. Peter Elliott and his student crew shot more of the documentary "Road To Webequie" which will be fiished and released soon. John Cowling and his Photoshop chops are appreciated. Thanks also to the Junior Grades for adding their special touch to the song!