ONE LAMP POST AT A TIME
Teacher candidate Kale Bonham and inner city youth work to revitalize Selkirk Avenue
Twenty-one windy Manitoba winters and sweltering summers ago, banners advertising a Gallery Walk were hung along Selkirk Avenue in Winnipeg. Pieces of these banners are still hanging there today like the tattered flags of a ghost town. To Kale Bonham, an Aboriginal student in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba, these old banners are a disservice to the people and do not reflect the vibrant community she grew up in. But with the help of the Selkirk Avenue Biz, city councilor Ross Eadie, the North End Community Renewal Corporation (NECRC), Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO) and the kids in this North End neighborhood, Kale is helping to change the face of Selkirk Avenue one lamp post at a time.
In the winter of 2011, Kale started the process of redesigning the lamp post banners with her first year practicum classroom at Children of the Earth High School. To facilitate the conversation and ideas, she brought to the class images of banners hung in other Winnipeg neighborhoods and asked the students to think about the lamp post banners in their own area. The students recognized the obvious difference between those hung in other Winnipeg neighborhoods and theirs, and their reaction solidified Kale’s desire to have the banners replaced.
“I have never heard the students talk so much,” she explains. “They were clearly upset and insulted by the fact the banners on Selkirk Avenue were in such terrible condition. This became a very personal issue for some of these students, and this encouraged me to continue to find ways to replace the old banners and represent the voices in my classroom.” As a result, Kale approached the Selkirk Avenue Biz and City Councilor Ross Eadie for assistance.
Eadie, chair of the Selkirk Avenue Biz, was intrigued by Kale’s vision and has since supported her throughout this project and with her NECRC grant application to acquire funding for the creation of new banners for Selkirk Avenue. “Kale is very driven and I am pleased with how she has taken ownership of her neighborhood while applying her artistic skills and using her education to work with the youth. This project is giving Selkirk Avenue a better image while giving ownership to the people. I am happy to be working with Kale to help give the kids in this area a voice about their neighborhood and about how they wish to be perceived.”
While waiting for a response from her grant application, Kale continued to work on the banners with the student artists outside of the classroom and over the summer through AYO, an after-school anti-gang program. As the creative director of AYO, Kale worked with the students to facilitate the art-making process with the assistance of the AYO organizer Michael Champagne and the youth engagement coordinator Jenna Wirch. Both Michael and Jenna were eager assistants as they also saw the potential this project had for their neighborhood.
Jenna explains: “When people walk down Selkirk, they may see some negative activity, and if you look up away from the street, currently, all you see are banners that are grungy. We want people to be proud of their neighborhood and to look up and see banners that inspire change. So by hanging banners created by youth for youth and the people of the North End, we might be able to make a difference. Without Kale this initiative would not be happening.”
Following a beautiful and productive summer, Kale received notice that the NECRC would support the Selkirk Avenue banner renewal project with a grant of $2,000 and that the Selkirk Avenue Biz and the City of Winnipeg would offset the rest of the cost. This grant and support has allowed Kale and her students to renew the signage on 65 lampposts along Selkirk Avenue.
With this commitment from NECRC and the city, the Selkirk Avenue Biz began the process of choosing five different images created by the North End youth with assistance from local graphic designer Brian Griffith. The banner images selected include: a community and culture piece that is meant to unify and celebrate the diverse Selkirk Avenue area; a bell tower image that, for the youth, is an icon that helps to define their neighborhood and which is used in times of celebration; a “youth have heart” piece that represents how the students want to be perceived, and; a pair of street views of Selkirk Avenue as it can be seen from Main Street and Arlington Street.
These new Selkirk Avenue banners are expected to be hung within the 2011 calendar year. For more information on the youth banner renewal project or Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO), please contact Kale Bonham at kalebonham [at] gmail [dot] com or the Selkirk Avenue Biz at (204) 986-5188.
Kale Bonham is an Ojibway woman and member of the Manitoba, Swan Lake First Nation. Her peers describe Kale as a very good mentor with lots of ideas to bring to the table. University of Manitoba Faculty of Education instructor Pauline Broderick says of Kale: “She is a gifted artist. Her work speaks to issues of social justice and inspires us to engage in making the world a better place for all. She is a fearless explorer of possibilities.”
Currently, Kale is in her second year of the Bachelor of Education Program at the University of Manitoba and expects to graduate in May 2012. In addition, she was one of three students selected to receive the Education Alumni Association Student Scholarship. Kale also holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honors) degree from the University of Manitoba.
Kale’s next project is a Winnipeg North End youth-led newspaper project called “The Fwd” (pronounced “Forward”). She is currently looking for volunteers to participate and help facilitate the writing by youth for the paper. If you are interested, please contact Kale Bonham at kalebonham [at] gmail [dot] com