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Life-size artworks invite folks to re-connect with York Region

By Wayne Doyle

They’re big. They’re bold. And they’re beautiful.

The York Region Arts Council yesterday unveiled the first two markers of their York Region Experience Trail Marker Project in the Township of King and the Town of Aurora – The Butterfly and The Bee (Memengwaa and Aamoo in Ojibwe), respectively.

Designed by Indigenous artist Don Chretien with cultural narrative by Ojibwe Elder Shelley Charles of Georgina Island First Nation, and launched on National Indigenous Peoples Day, the huge trail markers are part of a collaborative interactive art project designed to re-connect people on the land presently known as York Region through art.

“Focused on the legend of the seedspreaders and the pollinators, the trail markers are life-size, interactive designs that invite you to become part of the work,” said artist Don Chretien. “I hope people will capture it with a selfie and become a modern-day pollinator by sharing it with their community online.”

Commissioned by the York Region Arts Council, under the direction of program curator Monica del Rio Pain, Mr. Chretien’s series encompasses his Ojibwe learnings of the Medicine Wheel and celebrates the seed spreaders and pollinators of Mother Earth. The circular shaped art pieces are designed to provide people the opportunity to be part of the art, be part of the story and to re-connect with York Region through photos, art and storytelling.

“The Experience Trail is all about re-connecting people through York Region’s diverse attractions,” Ms. Pain said. “We want to create an experience that celebrates all there is to do across the region and encourage art as a way to share and connect these experiences with each other in a safe way.”

At a mid-morning celebration under bright sunshine, Township of King Mayor Steve Pellegrini unveiled The Butterfly at the King Heritage & Cultural Museum. Joined by Township of King councillors, dignitaries and other guests, Mayor Pellegrini paid tribute to the efforts of YRAC and King Heritage & Cultural Museum staff for their efforts.

“We’re honoured to have this incredible work of art in King,” Mayor Pellegrini said. “And to unveil it on this special day is just fantastic. I can’t say enough about the partnership between the King Heritage & Cultural Museum and YRAC – they’re both focused on enhancing the quality of life in King through art and culture and they’re creating programs that are truly fantastic.”

An hour and a half later, at a ceremony at the bucolic Aurora Town Park, Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas led an unveiling ceremony that included a moving dedication by Anishinaabe Grandmother Kim Wheatley. With words of wisdom and a passion for connectedness, Grandmother Kim implored the assembled to re-connect with their Indigenous brothers and sisters – for the good of all people.

She then performed a song – accompanied only by her drum – before delivering a ceremonial ‘smudging’ to the artwork.

“We’re thrilled to have this great work of art in Aurora,” said Aurora Mayor Mrakas. “The moment we heard about the project from Monica at YRAC, we were in. We think it’s incredibly important to have a vibrant and engaging arts and culture community in Aurora. 

“And this is another example of that commitment.”

Located at the heart of a busy pedestrian location – a children’s playground, waterpark and splashpad is just few metres away and the town’s weekly Farmers’ Market is but a radish throw away – The Bee has a secret face in it.

If you can figure out what the secret face is, share it with us on Instagram – #ExperienceYR.

The artworks were fabricated by FastSigns Markham.

Main photo: From left, King Township Councillors Debbie Schaefer and David Boyd join Mayor Steve Pellegrini, Erika Baird, supervisor of Culture for King, Monica del Rio Pain, YRAC program curator, and Kalli Secord, King Township Public Library for the official unveiling.

Top photo row, from left: Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas becomes part of The Bee installation at Aurora Town Park; Township of King Mayor Steve Pellegrini becomes part of The Butterfly at King Heritage & Cultural Museum; artist Don Chretien shows his style with The Butterfly and The Bee.

Bottom photo row, from left: Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas with artist Don Chretien; an attentive audience for the Aurora unveiling; Anishinaabe Grandmother Kim Wheatley addresses the crowd; YRAC’s Monica del Rio Pain, left, joins Grandmother Kim and Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas.

Wayne Doyle is the manager of marketing and communications for the York Region Arts Council. A former journalist, Wayne is always looking for great stories to share with readers of experienceyorkregion.com. If you’ve got a York Region story to tell, contact Wayne: wayne@yorkregionartscouncil.com

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