SIX NATIONS – In anticipation of the tenth Annual Pen Pal Gathering, the Pen Pal committee invited young artists from Grade 4 to Grade 8 to participate in the Grand River Arts: Neighbourhood Dialogue Project (G.R.A.N.D), on Saturday, January 31 at the Six Nations Tourism Building.
The project will continue every other Saturday and each art lesson will not only enhance the young artists’ abilities and incorporate Haudenosaunee culture, but will be taught collaboratively by several volunteers, guest artists, and high school youth alumni that were once Pen Pals themselves.
Former Teacher at Emily C. General Elementary School, Suzie Miller, actually started the Pen Pal initiative out of her wanting to change the divide between children in their respective communities.
“Today went very well for the first session,” said Miller, explaining that the GRAND Project stems from the Pen Pal Initiative. “I was a teacher in Grade three [and] four, at Emily C. General and during the land reclamation, my two communities of Caledonia and Six Nations were in conflict, so I was really concerned for the kids,” she said, explaining that this is why she reached out through a Pen Pal Initiative.
“This year there’s about 2 500 kids participating as pen pals,” she said. “We put a real push on this for year 10, and we’ve been building these relationships along the Grand River and people are paying attention. We’ve come a long way in 10 years,” she said with a smile.
Miller further explained that the final piece of art the children involved in the project will have to create, is a piece that recognizes the Two Row Wampum and how it correlates to peace.
Artist Evelisa Genova, one of the volunteers for the art session, explained that the entire project was something that took a lot of collaborative power.
“The kids were really engaged the whole time and I think it went really well today,” said Genova. “I wanted to work with Suzie to figure out how we can really use art to celebrate the 10 year [anniversary] of Pen Pals,” she said.
“There’s a lot of amazing talent here along the Grand River, and we wanted something that would answer ‘how can we get that talent here to help young artists develop their technique,’” she said, as she further explained that she and Miller talked to several different artists and advisors.
“We have about 20 spaces for kids, so there’s a lot more space and actually, there’s a lot of kids that are interested, but we’re just figuring out transportation,” she explained. “I think it was important to have a good first session, so even though there were more adults than kids, that helps to spread the word,” she said.
Assisting with the learning portion of the art session was Onondaga Chiefs Toby Williams and Arnold Jacobs. Jacobs brought several art pieces that told stories to the youth and children that participated, while adding a great flair of talent, even going so far as to extend an invitation to his art gallery on Highway 54.
The event ended after each participant followed a step-by-step instruction of portraiture, and a Cayuga closing by Garret Smith; allowing each individual to leave with more knowledge and more artistic skill.
G.R.A.N.D. is open and available to young people from Grades 4 to 8 who have an interest in expanding their artistic skills. Students from any of the participating Pen Pals schools can join. The registration fee is $25 for the year. This includes basic materials, technical lessons, and healthy snacks for the sessions. For more information, visit www.penpalproject.ca.