Mural wall, community art projects in works

Peggy Revell

It’s no surprise that an artist would be the one to transform a simple plan for a paintball safety wall into a full blown public arts project.
But that’s exactly what local artist Eric Keast is planning to do.
“I want to bring art to the people, I guess, to get more people involved,” Keast said about the project, being done in collaboration with Spirit Fire Park in Devlin, which will see a roughly 150-foot long public mural wall built (which also will serve as a boundary for the park’s paintball site).
Funding for this project—and others in the works—comes from an Ontario Arts Council Northern Arts grant of $12,000.
While many know Keast for his work that’s displayed at the Clover Valley Farmer’s Market, Fort Frances Museum, and elsewhere, he won’t be the only one working on the mural since part of the grant has been allocated towards holding a mural workshop with local youths through the United Native Friendship Centre’s Urban Multipurpose Aboriginal Youth Centre (UMAYC) program.
“I just think it’s a really great opportunity for youth,” said Nathalie Donaldson of the UMAYC, noting Keast is an “amazing artist” who has worked with the program’s youth before when creating and painting some of the murals found on the centre’s walls.
“It’s a really positive experience for them because an adult is coming to them for assistance,” she added, noting this is great for the youths’ self-esteem by giving them a chance to work on something in the community.
As well, Keast is a positive male role model for them.
“And to be able to work with such a talented artist, it’s great,” Donaldson enthused.
She encouraged any youths who want to get involved with the project to contact her at the UMAYC, which is located at 616 Mowat Ave. (274-0561).
Along with the large public mural space, Keast also is working to create and install a large papier maché sculpture for the park—a 10-foot long sturgeon to be exact.
“It’s going to be pretty impressive, I think,” said Keast. “It’s going to be in a swimming undulation motion so that we can place it between a couple of trees and look like it’s swimming through the forest.
“So it’s going to be pretty cool.
“Artistically speaking, I think it’s very representative of the region that we’re in,” Keast added. “Historically, it’s a very important resource, and just an outstanding specimen of wildlife.
“The older sturgeon used to get so much larger than they do now,” he noted.
“When we’re talking about a 10-foot sturgeon sculpture—that’s life-sized, it’s not exaggerated.”
It’s also part of a project idea Keast has to eventually see monumental sculptures created and installed throughout the region.
“The idea, of course, is that once we have the mold, the form, than we can make copies of it,” he explained, meaning that more fish can be installed in the park, and elsewhere.
As well, the mold can be used to run workshops on structural forms, he added.
 “This is just the start,” Joe Carlson, owner of Spirit Fire Park, said about the collaborative project and the plans for the 40 acres of land, of which only five acres has been developed so far for the paint ball range.
In the long term, Carlson is looking to expand upon the sculptures and murals at the site—hopefully creating even bigger ones that can be used as interactive art (such as being shot at with paint guns).
“[Carlson] has run [Spirit Fire Park] as a paintball park for quite some time, but he wanted to make it a public place,” Keast explained.
“I started playing paintball there and started thinking maybe we could do something with the infrastructure and turn it into an art park, as well.
“Joe’s got all this infrastructure, it’s basically a canvas to me,” Keast added, saying their goal is to make the park an area where people can come to relax, camp, and enjoy nature—not just for paintball.
And with the mural space, the pair also are hoping to create a venue for the performing arts since the walls have been designed so there is a stage area within it.
To go along with this part of the project, part of the grant funding they received will go towards bringing in Thunder Bay musician Rodney Brown to perform, noted Keast, something that is slated to take place at the official “opening” of the park on the weekend of Aug. 6.
By then, they hope to have the work on the mural started, and hopefully the piece the youths from the UMAYC program already in place.
That weekend also will see the local theatrical performance of a piece called “The Spirit Fire is Lit Again,” said Carlson, a project based upon regional legends, including the mythological “Windigo.”
Carlson encouraged anyone interested in being a part of the performance to come out Aug. 2-5, which is slated to be theatrical workshops and rehearsals for the performance.
“Theatre in the woods is not the same as theatre on the stage, is not the same as theatres in the cities, it’s totally different,” he stressed, pointing to how this setting gives actors the chance to interact directly with the audience.
“It’s not something you just do; it’s something you have to learn,” he said about the workshops they are planning to hold in the lead-up to the theatrical presentation, which will include such things as stage fighting and improvisation.
Besides the theatrical workshop, Carlson noted many other types of workshops are slated to take place at Spirit Fire Park throughout the spring and summer, including camping workshops, paintball safety courses, and more.
More information about these is available online at www.spiritfirepark.ca
As well, Carlson is looking for youth and people who are videographers who are interested in helping to film and document the various events.
Meanwhile, as the sculptures, murals, and other art projects at Spirit Fire Park progress, Keast is hoping more people and artists become involved­.
He has begun contacting local municipalities and First Nations for support, and is hoping other regional artists will step forward to share their talents to create more murals and sculpture work—possibly even applying for more grants to expand the project.
And the art projects at Spirit Fire Park aren’t the only ones Keast currently is working on­. He’s also looking to form a weekly cultural market at Pither’s Point Park this summer to “encourage the growth and visibility of regional craftsmen and craftswomen.”
Those interested in participating in any of these art projects can contact Keast through his website at www.bingorage.com