Paint the Rails Reflections by Dana Belcourt
Over the course of time I’ve been involved in the Paint The Rails project it has blossomed from being a project intending to cover the walls of LRT stations, to a project helping to bring a voice to the voiceless. I have had the unique pleasure of working alongside a team of amazing artists and staff of the JHC to capture stories that could’ve easily been lost in a city constantly and rapidly changing. When I first joined the team I expected the project to be a simple painting project, but I’ve come to understand Paint The Rails means so much more than six simple murals. Through engaging communities and citizens we’ve been able to share important stories and history of the city we live in. I grew to understand the importance of community, knowledge, and speaking up for those who are otherwise unable to share their own thoughts about the city we live in.
One of the first things I learned about Paint The Rails was its focus on community and mutual understanding for all peoples. From learning the history of Canada’s first mosque to taking a tour through China Town I’ve come to understand Edmonton as a home for people with different backgrounds that are inherently unique and different from each other and mine. Engaging with the community sets this project apart from others as a way of respecting and understanding we’re all from a similar place- but that does not mean our experiences are similar. These sessions opened my eyes to the rich history our city has, and how I would be able to touch that history and help bring it forth into life. I grew to appreciate the role I had as a visual interpreter, being able to take a story in both hands and shape it into a picture. My role in this project has truly made me appreciate the saying “a picture holds a thousand words” because the murals containing these words speak louder than I can shout them.
Another important lesson I learned from Paint The Rails was that I now had the ability to speak up for those without a voice. In our first mural, “Returning Home” we created a mural born from the Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women movement. This proved to be very informative to many people, as many people came by to ask questions while the mural was in progress. This to me suggested I was the voice for those women who went missing, a voice to stand up for acts of violence against Indigenous Women, and someone who could bring them justice. It’s small acts of courage that inform people and help bring change, and I realized that while working on this mural. Furthermore, the next mural we worked on, “The River” helped bring attention to the natural aspects of our city, and the life that was here before us. Working on this mural also proved to be very informative for the vast majority of people who walked by every day, who didn’t know the history of the river our city is centered on- the very river that was a starting point for this city. Working on “The River” helped bring attention to how the river connects all forms of life, and how all our communities are connected through it.
Finally Paint The Rails has furthered my own progress in being more inclusive and accepting on my own. Before the project I never stopped to admire how diverse Edmonton is, I was blind to the fact of how rich everyone’s lives are, and I became aware of the different stories ever single person has to tell. Through painting murals I felt myself growing in to a better version of myself, one who could see our diverse culture for what it was; something inherently beautiful and special. This week I was at the University of Alberta and had a man tell me he walks by our mural “The River” every day and how much he enjoys seeing it. Having these kinds of experiences makes me feel fulfilled; like I’ve given back to a community I grew up in. Paint The Rails has had a big hand in how I see Edmonton- a distinct community full of culture and stories that should have the chance to be shared. Through my experience I grew to recognize and appreciate each community for what it was: a place shaped by the people and their experiences, not by the buildings that tether them here.
Dana Belcourt is a 19 year old Métis emerging artist who recently graduated from Victoria School of the Arts. Dana grew up in Edmonton on Treaty 6 territory, and uses this cultural influence to shape her work. Her work is filled with deep symbolism revolving around growth and emotions, as well as influences from her heritage and experiences.