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Teenage girls learn how to save the day

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The Craftastics instructor Jennie O'Keefe (aka Jennie O) is shown with daughter Lucie, Grade 10 students Chyna Alford and Brooke Klassen, and River East Transcona School Division youth programming co-ordinator Pam Jansen.

PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON Enlarge Image

The Craftastics instructor Jennie O'Keefe (aka Jennie O) is shown with daughter Lucie, Grade 10 students Chyna Alford and Brooke Klassen, and River East Transcona School Division youth programming co-ordinator Pam Jansen. Photo Store

A group of super-students are working to make a difference in northeast Winnipeg schools.

Members of the Valley Gardens Middle School Grrlz Club spun off into a year-long art project called The Craftastics: Agents for Social Change, based out of the school. The club, funded by the Lighthouse program through Neighbourhoods Alive! included 11 students, three adult leaders, and even a newborn.

As a part of the program, all 15 members received an alter ego and created a backstory as to how that character combats various issues faced by teen girls. Members created costumes, action dolls, and a trading card set to demonstrate what students can do to address issues such as stereotyping, body image, gender discrimination, and peer pressure, among others.

The club decided last school year it was hoping to do an art project, and began looking for an artist through the Winnipeg Arts Council’s WITH ART Program. It was impressed with West End resident Jennie O’Keefe (known in the art scene as Jennie O), and the two sides went from there.

O’Keefe plans to distribute the 300 limited-edition sets of trading cards across the city to places like schools, resource centres, and libraries to inspire other girls. The sets also include a "zine" of members’ art as well as one of 13 collectible posters.

"We’re active producers of our own culture," said O’Keefe, whose character was The Matriart, and whose infant daughter Lucie (Blank Slate) was part of the group. "We’re always buying stuff, but in this, we’re creating a positive thing that represents who we are as girls and women."

In addition to weekly meetings, group members went on a shopping trip to Value Village where they picked up the basics for their costumes, which they then put together by sewing, gluing, and decorating.

They also did a photo shoot in costume at Miles Macdonell Collegiate after having their hair and makeup done by the school’s cosmetology students.

Grade 10 student Chyna Alford, who was not allowed to say which school she attends, said the project brought group members, ranging from Grades 7 to 10, closer together through boosting each other up.

"Most of us didn’t really know each other at first, and by the end, it was pretty much like a family," said Alford, whose character, Click, was focused on stopping verbal abuse. "You made up a character, and it targeted a certain point of bullying.

"We learned bullying is a really big thing — it’s not just a word or two — and it can lead to several different things."

Both Alford and Kildonan-East Grade 10 student Brooke Klassen, whose Starry Day character encourages proper sleep habits, say they had an interest in art before starting the project, and both hope to keep it up afterward, too.

All of the group’s creations will debut on Thurs., May 23 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Platform Gallery, located at 121-100 Arthur St. The exhibit will run until May 25.

"I’m really excited for it. I’ve been wanting to see our stuff for a long time," said Alford. Group members have only seen prototypes for the trading card set, and not the finished product.

The other adult group members were River East Transcona School Division youth programming co-ordinator Pam Jansen and artist Rebecca Warkentin.

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