June 25th, 2024

Eye on the Esplanade: Discovering arts and culture through the eyes of our everyday heroes

By Medicine Hat News on July 27, 2018.

It’s impossible to adequately explain the feeling of sheer delight that never failed to overcome my 10-year-old self at the approach of a dark and brooding storm. The louder the thunder the better and if the power went out then Oh boy!, we were in for a treat. Candles were lit as board games emerged from the shelves of dusty cupboards. The pantry was raided and feasts of tin cans prepared to the strum of my brother’s guitar. We relinquished routine and indulged in the buzz of the crackling sky. Now was the time for sing-alongs and wild tales, for roaring laughter and wistful recollections. Gathered around the light of a flickering flame, these moments embodied a virtue that lies at the very heart of arts and culture: A sense of connection and wonder in the light of shared experience. Our personal stories — intimate, emotive and always treasured — were the glue that held it all together.

On any given occasion, black clouds or not, my grandma claimed top spot as our family’s designated story teller. Growing up in the midst of the 1940s against a backdrop of dirt roads and endless prairie, her chronicles of life on the farm enthralled us. We were city kids after all and we were living in the new millennium. Tales of one-room school houses, hand-churned butter and playtime encounters with black bears in the field had us staring back at her, wide-eyed, mouths gaping. With only 60 years or so to bring us up to present times, stories of my grandma’s childhood seemed practically otherworldly — and in a sense they were. These personal truths, shared as intimate firsthand accounts, offered us a glimpse into a world that existed long before our young perceptions of time began. Thanks to the memories that my grandma shared, we gained extraordinary insights into a tiny but riveting slice of our country’s past.

History is richest when it embraces a multitude of perspectives and perhaps most empathetic when recounted through the eyes of its everyday heroes. Understanding our connections to the past and how they’ve led us to our place within the present is an impossibly complex endeavour. Yet as a member of the Esplanade’s education team I am constantly a witness to micro revelations; moments when students of all ages chip away at the bigger picture by stepping into the shoes of the workers, teachers, parents and community leaders who have helped shape our city in ways both big and small. In the Museum and Archives at the Esplanade, students are introduced to broader historical topics through the stories of ordinary people, the objects they handled and the places they lived. In the Art Gallery students explore vast themes of contemporary life, heritage and identity through the creative lens of our ever-changing roster of artists. Students learn that stories can be told not only through words but also through line, colour, shape, imagery, material exploration and abstract representation.

Story telling, no matter what form it takes, is a valuable catalyst for creativity. Our minds work hard to recreate the sights, smells, textures and moods of the scene. Listening is seldom a passive act. At any given moment we can close our eyes and imagine ourselves right in the middle of it all, ready to dive in and explore for ourselves. What new stories are waiting to unfold? You tell us! Beginning in early August, the Esplanade will be inviting visitors to share their own personal stories, memories, myths and tall tales at our collaborative art station in the gallery foyer. This free drop-in activity station is part of Go Wild! a larger series of hands-on, exploratory and multi-sensory stations set up in and around the Esplanade’s grounds. From classic slingshot practice to animal print tracking on the front lawn, and fantastical beasts and personal narratives in the gallery foyer, there’s sure to be something for everyone who stops by. Set to launch on Aug. 9, we’ll be ringing in the fun with Truck Stop, a special outdoor performance brought to us by a motley group of campers in search of adventure as they journey the country from East to West. Join us for an afternoon of music, theatre, arts, games and non-stop entertainment! Perhaps in all the excitement, we’ll come together to foster a sense of connection and wonder and — as I did amidst the thunder and lightening of nights long gone by — we’ll delight in the triumphs of our shared experience.

Jasmine Keillor is art curatorial and education assistant at the Esplanade.

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