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Erin PS students create beautiful mural, engage in storytelling with artist Michael Cywink

February 9, 2018

ERIN, Ontario – The students of Erin Public School spent the week creating and sharing stories with First Nation artist Michael Cywink.

Cywink is an artist from the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island and is actively involved in the community development of First Nation cultural arts.

For the last several years, he has worked with students across Ontario on mural projects, through the Ontario Arts Council’s Indigenous Artists in Schools program.

The idea for the project, called A Reconcilliation in Colour, began following renovations in the summer of 2017 at the school. An entire wall of old lockers was removed and replaced with a 25-foot long white wall. School staff were brainstorming different ways they could use the space, such as installing bulletin boards, when they received a call from a teacher within the UGDSB. The teacher asked if Erin PS was interested in having an Indigenous artist come to school to work with students. They jumped at the amazing opportunity and replied a resounding “yes!” 

Students at Erin PS created a mural with artist Michael Cywink the week of February 5-9, 2018.

Cywink and students from Erin PS worked on the mural project the week of Feb. 5 to 9. The school was also fortunate to have the expertise of a visual-arts-trained teacher on staff, who coordinated art classes in such a way that every student took part in the project. 

According to the school, the most wonderful part of the project was seeing the elements of storytelling and history build and spread throughout the school. As Cywink worked with some of the Intermediate students, sketching the outlines of the artwork, the artist spoke to students about each element as it was drawn or painted. He talked about the spirit animals on Turtle Island – the deer, the bear, the beaver, the wolf, the eagle.  He talked about traditional storytelling and the significance of these animals in Indigenous culture. 

On the mural, one can also see dragonflies, which represent the seven grandfather teachings, and many plants traditionally used for medicinal purposes. As the older students learned some of the rich history, they would take over from Cywink, re-telling the stories to younger students walking by. The youth would, quite spontaneously, stop in their tracks to watch in awe of the beautiful art that was taking shape in front of their eyes.  They asked questions about the different plants and animals and the older students would repeat to them the stories they learned from Cywink. 

There was no assembly, no lecture, no sit-and-listen.  What ended up happening was a modern rendition of storytelling being passed on from one generation to another.  Kids gravitated to the wall the entire week and some enthusiasts worked on the wall for countless hours. 

To preserve the storytelling and the painting, Erin PS students are also in the process of making a video montage for future students to see. 

Categories: Spotlight On Schools