Expression, transformation and a creative muse

Regina gallery's Enbridge Young Artists Project reaches out to inner-city kids

When Lee Beckmann was a child, he struggled in school. Drawing and doodling helped him escape, providing a creative outlet where he could thrive and flourish.

“Art saved me. It really did,” says Beckmann. “It saved me from making a lot of terrible choices.”

Today, as an elementary school art teacher, Beckmann is helping kids find their own creative muse through an art program that has been delivered to schools by Regina’s MacKenzie Art Gallery, with funding from Enbridge, for the past 15 years.

This longtime program is now expanding its good work through a five-year, $250,000 funding commitment for the Enbridge Young Artists Project. The funds come from the Enbridge School Plus Program, which sees Enbridge invest in the leaders of tomorrow by supporting enrichment programs and extracurricular activities for Canadian school children.

“It’s huge — both transformational and inspirational,” says MacKenzie Art Gallery executive director and CEO Anthony Kiendl.

This sponsorship commitment, established under the School Plus program’s Urban Aboriginal component, will enable the MacKenzie Art Gallery to enhance the existing program and touch the lives of more than 1,200 inner-city Regina youths, most of them Aboriginal, in the coming years.

“It really changes everything in terms of what we’re able to deliver for inner-city youth and for delivering this type of program in Regina,” adds Kiendl.

The MacKenzie Art Gallery will build on the art program that’s already delivered to five Regina schools, four of them elementary. Most of the schools are high-needs and attended by underprivileged Aboriginal youth.

The gallery assigns a practicing artist to the school, working alongside teachers twice a week throughout the school year. The kids learn about various mediums — from sculpting to painting to visual art — depending on the artist’s specialty. Influential Métis artist Bob Boyer, for example, worked with Beckmann’s students, and helped students connect with their culture through their artwork.

Beckmann explains that some students have difficult, and sometimes traumatic, home lives. The art program offers an outlet for expression and healing.

The artists themselves tell incredible stories of kids opening up through their art. There are “a million stories” like that, says Nicolle Nugent, an educator at the gallery who oversees community, school, and youth programs.

“The impact is so moving,” she adds. “They are really engaged and excited – and they don’t get excited about a lot of stuff. For some students, this is the only time they get to smile.”

For teachers like Beckmann, the experience has been equally profound.

“I cannot express how much it means both to the schools, to myself . . . the access to the tools, the gallery, the artists . . . none of this would be possible without Enbridge. They’re doing an amazing thing.”