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ACE Lessons Learned: The Impact an ACE Project had on a Student-Journalist

A key component of an ELAN ACE project is to encourage multidirectional learning. Inviting a student-journalist into a project to document its progress is a great way to empower leadership skills in younger people, and have the artist and the community learn from the student-journalist’s unique perspective, voice and artistic skill-sets. Melissa Landry was the student-journalist for Lisan Chng‘s project at Metis Beach school. She did a fabulous job capturing the stories emerging from the various stages of the project. Below is a piece that she wrote reflecting on the impact that the project had on her.  

The Impact an Intergenerational Community-Based Art Project Had on My Life.

Pulled by a chubby hand I was lead to a table supplied with a plethora of colourful beads and tiles of glass.  “Can you help me?” the little one asked as he grasped a pile of sparkling golden tiles from their neat container and scattered them into a mess. From the perspective of this two-feet higher set of eyes, I watched him salsa dancing in his chair, holding a facial expression I swear to have been the most excited look a child could have, and got lucky to catch a glimpse of childhood wonder. I smiled. From ear to ear. And said “of course! let’s do this together.”

In the midst of the lower st. Lawrence stands the teeny, but yet impactful, town and community of Metis Beach. And at the centre of this small town lies a gem, known as Metis Beach School (my former high school). Over the years, this lively school has proven to serve as an inviting scope for community-building activities, and community projects relating to art have certainly been no exception.

During my graduating year at MBS, I was blessed with the privilege to be taught by mosaic artist, Lisan Chng, whom I, at the time, had become greatly inspired by. While working on the project she had hosted, I remember being in a state of awe seeing the fullness of enthusiasm and passion that she had in her marrow for the craft. So, after being informed by my mother that Lisan was going to host yet another community-based project, “Magic Pots and Talking Mirrors”, I headed into it with excitement. This specific program was made possible by multiple sponsors and was set to be an intergenerational mosaic project where adults and children would work alongside each other. Adults on mirrors, and younglings from kindergarten to elementary level on flower pots. Though I must say, even knowing this, I walked in on all this excitement with a completely blind idea of what exactly to expect.

Photo credit: Melissa Landry

First off, in my spur-of-the-moment decision to join this project, I followed my mum into it not knowing at the time the group’s label was preceded by “Senior”. As a freshly-turned 18-year-old, discovering I had involved myself into what was, in fact, a “senior’s” group,  quickly hit me with a bout of laughter.  “I guess I’m just an ‘extra Jr. Senior'” I giggled to myself. But shortly after emerging into the unfamiliar group, in both demographic and faces, I was pleased to find that I still found a comfortable spot to fit right in.

Still salsa dancing on-top his chair, my eager little partner squealed “It’s sooooo SHINY!!!!!” And soon after, with an opera-singer voice, he sang “like a pot of goldddddd!!!”. (What a voice indeed I tell ya). It was while seeing these silly moments, of a now-hopping-around-the-room child being simply careless, free and undoubtedly hyperrrr, that I discovered within myself that I find an abundance of joy in with working with kids.

Currently, my life motto is to “go with the flow”, “follow whatever path is ahead”, “take opportunities as they come”… basically, my current life plan is to have no plan. I don’t yet know exactly what I want out of life, what I want to do or if going to college/university will ever be part of it. So now I’ve been focusing on trying new things and figuring out what works for me. Anything and everything. Heck, for the past six months I was working in a lobster processing plant, and I discovered it was seriously the absolute best. This project was also the absolute best.

In experiencing the emotional baggage of a recent hardship,  you could say my spirit was like a “caged bird” before being granted the opportunities walking in on this whole experience provided me. Of helping little hands, of doing my best to capture precious moments with pictures and with writing this very article. In short, I needed something new to learn, or people new to meet to get me out of my rut. And this project, consisting of the niche community of senior volunteers and young students, along with a wonderful artist host, had created just the environment I needed to spring me back into motion. It was the fun I had designing my mosaic mirror. The new techniques and skills I learned. Speaking with all the wise “senior” ladies I met (who I swear are still so young at heart). And most definitely, it was the kids.

After every session I found myself arriving home pooped, tired, exhausted, hungry, sleepy… and well, you get the point. But at the same time, I was never so empty but yet ever so full of joy and happy energy from the crowd of children who had surrounded me for that past couple of hours. It was something I looked forward to each week. Being utterly pooped. Needing 100 naps. Just seeing those adorable faces and the pieces of our hard work come together. Or not…

As a step of this project, we had to glue beaded patterns the kindergarten students created onto the tops of flower pots. Easy as 1,2,3. right? 1. Apply glue. 2. Stick pattern on. 3. observe completed pro… uh ooh. Pretty pearly pinks and blues and rainbows of colours had started to droop right off the glue, well, the “kamikaze-slide”, that had just been slathered on. Shortly after, sort of in a panic, we were forced to observe the un-kind effects of gravity. Not so fun. I’m not lying when I say tears of stress started leaking out of our eyes at the sight. But all the while, Lisan was already coming up with a way to fix our encountered problem — thicker paste. She’s a superwoman, I swear. This is how Lisan somehow managed to inspire me even further. By demonstrating perseverance at it’s finest! As a bonus, this also served as a learning experience for the younger ones — sometimes things in life don’t quite turn out to plan.

After about two months of trial and error, creativity and plain hard work, everything was complete. A group picture was taken with completed pieces as faces all-a-smiled and everything was cleaned up. (However, I beg to question if grout ever truly leaves any space it dare enters…). It was simply finished. With its bittersweet taste and all. And I could tell I wasn’t going to be the only who would feel a little weird about not having to mark the next project dates on the calendar.

Photo credit: Melissa Landry

“Magic Pots and Talking Mirrors” was a community-based project I won’t forget being involved in. I won’t forget spotting heads of youngsters and those with strands of white working together with smiles. I won’t forget how the loving and eager volunteers, even some who were not at first confident with their ability to work with kids, came in and made it all so much more fun. (They seriously made cutting tape seem like the “fun-est” thing in the world). I won’t forget one of my little partners gasping at how SHINY his pot turned out or the what seemed like a hundred hugs and cat drawings I got from the kids for helping them make what they did. They were proud of themselves. I was definitely proud of them. And I certainly won’t forget the impact it has had on me as a young adult.

Getting to be a part of something so impactful has both given me more confidence in myself and has shown me a little more of the direction I hope life’s current takes me towards. I mean, I still do not know what I would like to do with my life. (Do any of us?) But my biggest takeaway was in discovering that teaching children stems from a passion I didn’t know I had. They’ve stolen a place in my heart, and their drawings are still on my fridge to prove it.

Due to the positive outcome I’ve seen this project have in-close and personal for everyone involved, I hope it will serve as a launch-pad for more intergenerational art-based projects for not only this community but also perhaps those which neighbour to spring up. Because hopefully, and just maybe, I believe if opportunities like this would continue to arise, others might be given the same chance to learn something new. About a craft, or even, about themselves.

Photo credit: Melissa Landry