Conversations with the Earth: A Community Arts Project in Sudbury

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

Tanya Ball shows off the mural decorating the new Myths and Mirrors building. (Tanya Ball photo)Over the past year, the Canary Institute and MiningWatch Canada have been honoured to work with Myths and Mirrors Community Arts in Sudbury on a project for youth called “Conversations with the Earth”.

Myths and Mirrors hosted the Ontario Mining Action Network meeting in November 2007 and participants were treated to a tour of the project and the community art installations they have carried out over the years.

The project involves youth and young parents in participatory research and public dialogue events on how mining has affected Sudbury’s environment. The research and discussions have led to youth’s collective creation of public artworks, videos, zines and other artforms, as well as other strategies for awareness and action.

The project began in December 2006 with a move to a new site at a neighbourhood park, with a large building with lots of workshop and storage space, a full kitchen, and bathroom. Use of the park was donated by the City of Sudbury.

Project coordinator Tanya Ball says: “This site is perfect for our Conversations with the Earth project: it is across from a successful regreening project, but just a bit further down the road are the devastated remains of land scarred by mining, and a bit further down is the Frood mine, one of the oldest mines in Sudbury. Being so close to a functioning mine keeps the issues front and centre.”

Tanya involved all of the volunteers in the painting, decorating and moving. The ‘grand opening’ featured a smudging and blessing by Elder, Winnie Pitawanakwat, a drum honour song, lots of food, music and performances. It attracted over 100 people from the community and good media coverage.

The project hosts two weekly groups: Thursdays were for teens and youth and Fridays were for parents and children, with potlucks, then conversations and activities about environment issues. In the parents’ group, the children, age two to ten, took the lead, designing and creating a puppet stage and writing and directing their own shows and performances about The Fate of the Earth. Many of their activities have been documented on video.

To attract new youth, as well as those who did not know the new site, which is about a ten minute walk from downtown, the project helped them to organize a series of shows, featuring local punk and hip-hop groups. Tanya offered screenprinting workshops, with recycled sewn cloth bags, tee-shirts, posters, etc. which drew in even more kids. They soon had a core group of about sixteen youth.

At the opening, MiningWatch Canada’s Joan Kuyek presented on her experiences working on Canadian and mining issues, as well as the major pollution problems from this industry. Other presenters included two representatives from local mineworkers’ unions, a local business owner, and residents of the neighbourhood. People shared their stories of the land in and around Sudbury, how mining has touched their lives and their environment.

The project decided to take advantage of the new bare walls on the outside of the building, and the conversation was deepened through the collective design and creation of an outdoor mural that covers all four walls. Neighbours of all ages worked on the mural, which was unveiled in June. This project was “dedicated to all the children who live in mining communities, and to the adults who work for safe, clean mining practices.”

The project hired four students for the summer, all of whom were volunteers in the previous months. This was a dynamic team, who led a diverse group of youth through many projects, including photography, zines, storytelling and music making.

The cob (sifted earth, clay and straw) project was an intensive three weeks of hard labour, interwoven with teachings and conversations about sustainability, natural building practices, contaminated soil solutions and food production. They designed and created an ‘Earth Castle’.

The construction attracted the attention of many of the neighbours, many of whom come from the ‘old country’. They remember creating homes of earth in Croatia, Ukraine and Russia, and they were delighted by this project, and eager to share their stories of building with earth.

The project has just received confirmation that it will be funded for another year of creative work.