Fresh paint is glistening on the west side of the Emerald Centre, stark against the greyish-green walls of the old Rendezvous Hotel.
It’s been tagged and tarnished by the unmastered hands of rebels for some time but, today, the west wall is gleaming, yearning to be noticed by the stream of passing traffic that lately sits idle at rush hour.
The mural is the work of six students from Twin Rivers Education Centre (TREC), completed with guidance from artists Chris Bose and Nigel Szigeti.
It’s bright with vibrant colours, mostly composed by the teen-aged group from TREC.
Bose, a multidisciplinary artist, has been teaching street-art workshops at the alternative school for four years. Szigeti, a veteran graffiti artist, joined him.
Kids learn the techniques and styles behind graffiti art while pursuing a unique way to express themselves.
The Kamloops Art Gallery has supplied them with respirator masks fit for professionals.
“I think they really dig it,” Bose said.
“They get a chance to have access to supplies and equipment they ordinarily might not and get to do it in a safe place, safe manner.
“It brings out teamwork in them because they have to work together, they have to communicate together, they have to get a long and those are really good skills for kids to learn.”
Bose said TREC approached him years ago to introduce street art to students.
“They had walls that were getting hit, tagged and whatnot and rather than come down hard and heavy on kids, why don’t we give them opportunities to express themselves and be creative — a positive thing?”
For the most part, classes use plywood as a canvas, but this opportunity saw the kids working on a bigger stage.
TREC teacher Alexis Brown contacted the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association (KCBIA) in search of a wall that might suit a mural after some students expressed interest in working on a building, somewhere they could leave a real mark.
“We try to present them with different opportunities that help them feel positive and connected,” Brown said.
“I think it’s such a huge benefit to have our students out in the community and feel like they are a part of it.”
The KCBIA sits on the city’s co-ordinated enforcement task force, where general manager Gay Pooler heard Christa Mullaly voice concerns over tagging at Emerald Centre.
Mullaly, the executive director of the Kamloops branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, jumped at the idea of a new mural.
“This is an example of community coming together,” she said.
“It’s been a really nice way to bridge a couple of populations around something as lovely as art.”
The building in question has a storied past. It was a hotel plagued by drug- and crime-related incidences, but then transformed into a shelter that offers the homeless a first step toward housing.
Its evolution offers insight into why Mullaly suggested themes of hope, renewal, stability and growth be incorporated into the painting.
The final product features a large whimsical tree representing foundation, family, roots and wisdom, a medicine wheel, because students wanted to incorporate indigenous themes, and mounts Peter and Paul to tie it to Kamloops.
It has tones of emerald for the centre. It has some black clouds, maybe mirroring the turmoil of the bad times. In the background is a sunrise, showing hope for a new day.
The themes relate to the students’ curriculum, Brown said, but a more important lesson was the real experience of creating something meaningful.
“This allows them a voice, to say something,” she said. “We would hope all students really get that opportunity.”