Nunavut Teens’ Dream Mural Project in Toronto Saved at the 11th Hour

"These kids deserve to be front and centre and not tucked away with their artwork and their story out of sight and out of mind to Torontonians and Canada like they have been until now."

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Jun 26 2015, 10:27pm

A mural in Cape Dorset. Courtesy Pat Thompson

A wall was required, and not just any wall would do.

Pat Thompson and Alexa Hatanaka know walls. They have splashed massive murals across walls around the world. Partners in life and art, the duo calling itself the PA System hunted the streets of Toronto for the right wall—two-storeys at least, in a visible location—over the last week after their original wall fell through. In just days, four teens from Cape Dorset, Nunavut arrive expecting to start painting a new mural in an experiment designed by Thompson and Hatanaka to provide young people a chance to reach beyond their own borders and limitations. A wall to bring down the walls, so to speak.

This is the image in need of a wall: a broken snowmobile carried on the back of an Inuk elder, the grandfather of one of the teen artists, surrounded by animals from Canada's north like a walrus and caribou.

On Friday, the perfect wall finally materialized, half a block from the lost wall, on Church St. north of King St. It's already white, and after prepping, will resemble perfectly an Arctic landscape. It's in a parking lot adjacent to Hostelling International. Someone just has to pay for the parking spaces for the next few weeks.

Thompson and Hatanaka almost accepted a wall on Sherbourne St., at one of Toronto's grittiest corners, but thought it would be unfair to the teens coming from a region vibrant with creativity and community but dimmed by tragedy and loss. In Cape Dorset, which calls itself the world Capital of Inuit Art, major economic activities include carving and print-making. According to the territory's tourism board, more than one in five residents make a living through art. But Inuit people also have lower life expectancy and higher suicide rates than the rest of Canada.

"These kids deserve to be front and centre and not tucked away with their artwork and their story out of sight and out of mind to Torontonians and Canada like they have been until now," Thompson said.

He and Hatanaka pled their case in the media and received more calls and messages than they could respond to. With plane tickets booked and grants in place, they hit the streets themselves this week, searching for the holy grail of walls: windowless, flat, smooth and big enough to make passerby stop and maybe think.

A lot of agencies are involved: the project is funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, Canadian Heritage and StreetARToronto, in collaboration with Mural Routes and the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association. But none could provide a wall.

Though she can hardly believe it's now resolved, the new wall is beautiful, Hatanaka said. The four youths arrive on Monday and start painting next week.

Thompson and Hatanaka have traveled back and forth to Canada's north for years, to paint outdoor murals and run art workshops in painting and printmaking through the Embassy of Imagination, a youth organization they co-founded. The goal is achieving self-empowerment and resilience through art.

Their collaborative murals are now part of the landscape in the communities of Igloolik and Iqaluit in Nunavut, Kangsiqsujuaq and Kuujjuaq in Northern Quebec, as well as many cities across Ontario.

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