One of the newest parks in the City of Port Alberni will have some artwork designed by local high school students.
The Uplands II subdivision, located at the top of Burde Street, includes a park space that can be accessed off of Arbutus Drive. The space, named Griffin Park, is a small one—only about the size of one city lot. But Amy Needham, the city’s new parks operation supervisor, said the park’s small size makes it an ideal space for preliterate or preschool-age children.
“Every element of the park will be tailored to that age,” she explained.
The park is still under construction, but so far it includes a small, sloping hill and a playground.
During planning of the park, Needham discovered that an elevation change between the park and the neighbouring property was leading to a slumping issue, and a lot block wall had to be installed.
“We wanted to turn a negative into a positive and adapt that wall so it could be used by kids to play,” explained Needham.
That’s when she reached out to Anne Ostwald, a teacher at Alberni District Secondary School. Ostwald’s “Art Out of the Box” class has worked with the city in the past, painting colourful garbage cans around the city.
Together, Needham and Ostwald determined that each of the 14 blocks in the wall could be turned into a panel of a story. Because the park is for preliterate children, or children who are not yet reading, the story will be completely pictorial—featuring no words except the title, written in English and Nuu-chah-nulth, and the names of the students who participated in the project.
The Grade 11-12 students weren’t able to paint at the park due to inclement weather, so they have been painting the panels in class instead. The panels, which are made of an aluminum composite for durability and wear, will be installed at the park later this year.
Needham has been able to work with the class, meeting students to help them come up with a storyline and give them encouragement.
“It’s been a really awesome learning experience so far,” said Needham. “I really want to explore more student art projects in the future.”
Students came up with multiple stories, but settled on one about a young otter who gets lost while hunting for fish with his family. A friendly bear agrees to help the otter find his family, and the two of them meet a cast of Pacific Northwest characters along the way.
At the end of the story, the bear character transforms into a traditional Nuu-chah-nulth depiction of a bear, which was designed by Nuu-chah-nulth student Jaden Frank. Frank said that she included a butterfly in several panels, on the bear’s heart and his cedar hat, to signify the transformation.
Ostwald explained that her “Art Out of the Box” class is a foundational art class in which students have to do something to better the community.
“This is a public art project,” Ostwald said. “They’re doing artwork for someone else, so they’ve had to learn about consultation, teamwork. We looked at kids’ books, picture books for research.”
Her class started the project on March 1. Students will be presenting the final artwork to the city on June 16.
Two “test” pieces of artwork can currently be found on the wall at Griffin Park. City staff have used two different treatment methods to see how well they will stand up to the weather before the real artwork is installed in late summer or early fall.