UVic student leads art-based mental health initiative

Faces of our Community event brings international and domestic students together

The mural. All photos by Carina Pogoler, Senior Staff Editor.

The UVic community welcomed a wall of fresh faces to campus last month — literally.

The ‘Faces of our Community’ mural workshop, led by Art Education student Kira Chong, was designed initially to help integrate international students into the campus community, but quickly turned into a event where all students on campus gathered to alleviate stress with the swipe of a paintbrush.

“I felt like art was such a good way to do that, I talked about this more with my prof and we came up with some ideas. The number one idea we kept going back to was mental health [and how it affects] everyone, but also [how it affects] international students,” said Chong.

The workshop was held from Sept. 25-27 in the MacLaurin building, and hundreds of people stopped to admire the art, take pictures, and add to the giant “colouring book”, as Chong called it.

Chong secured the funds necessary to bring her project to fruition through the UVic Student Activity Grant.

“There’s money out there for people who can do stuff like this, UVic’s got a lot of grants, where if you’ve got an idea, there are so many people out there that are here to support you,” she said.

“A lot of the times when you move to a new country there’s a lot of barriers … So we wanted to use this as an opportunity to really reach out to international students and bring them together with domestic students.”

Event organizer Kira Chong.

The workshop was staged over three days. The first day consisted of image-development: students engaged in a brief warm-up activity, giving them a chance to hone their painting skills, while at the same time initiating intimate discussions in small groups.

“It’s called the ‘inside/outside’ mask,” explained Chong. “You … draw how you … see yourself — that’s your inside mask — and you give your paper to your partner … that’s a complete stranger, you talk to each other and learn about one another, and they draw your outside mask — so, how they perceive you.”

On the second day, a DJ playing live music created a party-like atmosphere in the MacLaurin Building, while students set about creating the mural on large, stand-alone canvas.

On the final day, the mural was rolled out in front of the MacPherson Library, and anyone walking by could join in on the activities.  

With dwindling free space available on the work of art, the final two days encouraged students to draw anything that came to mind — such as dogs, the Muppet 

character Elmo, and even a smiling banana — as they stopped by and  were welcomed to take a brief interlude from their academic responsibilities.

Chong sees non-structured events like Faces of our Community as a great opportunity for students on campus to take care of their mental health.

“This was just a way to talk about [mental health] in a subtle way,” said Chong.

“You see people …that are like, ‘I’ve never painted before,’ and I’m like ,‘Come, Just try!’ and they would look at their friend and draw a picture of them. It was fun to watch that because people would smile, laugh, and just relax.”

Chong said simply seeing people smiling, laughing, and receiving thanks from students for the opportunity to de-stress in the middle of the week was all the gratification she needed.

The mural will be showcased from Nov. 12-16 in the atrium of the Continuing Studies building. Chong credits the help of UVic for allowing her project to get off the ground and hopes all students on campus realize the university is there to support their projects, especially if they know the resources available to them.

A previous iteration of this article stated that Chong was an Art History student, rather than an Art Education student. This factual inaccuracy was edited on Nov. 8 at 3:20 p.m.

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