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This article was published 20/8/2018 (1000 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Before the paint had a chance to dry, the star blanket mural wrapping The University of Winnipeg’s Helen Betty Osborne building had already become a source of community pride in the West End.
This is the fifth star blanket mural Métis artist Kenneth Lavallee and Synonym Art Consultation have draped over a building in Winnipeg. In First Nations cultures the star blanket is given as a gift of honour and is intended to protect, empower and comfort those wearing it.
"I wanted to make a big statement; it’s sort of a way of reclaiming physical space on Treaty 1 land," Lavallee said.
The mural at the U of W is particularly meaningful for Lavallee because it speaks to the inspiration behind the larger star blanket project. While they are beautiful pieces of public art, the murals are also intended to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit peoples — an issue Lavallee started grappling with after learning more about the murder of Helen Betty Osborne in 1971.
"I was completely blown away by how tragic that whole case is and that it’s such an injustice… I had to do something," he said. "Five years later we’re painting a star blanket on the Helen Betty Osborne building, which feels like it’s all coming full circle."
Lavallee and artist Annie Beach worked on the mural at 511 Ellice Ave. from Aug. 13 to 20 with a team of paid staff and volunteers.
"It’s really important for us to have the community be present as well, it feels like we’re all kind of stitching this big star blanket together," Synonym co-founder Andrew Eastman said.
The Helen Betty Osborne building is home to the university’s Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre, which has become a community gathering place.
"It’s especially fitting that this beautiful artwork wrapping our building is being created in partnership with a group of talented artists and dedicated community members," said Jarita Greyeyes, U of W director of community learning and engagement.
West End resident Kenneth Castillo was excited about the new richly coloured, geometric addition to the neighbourhood.
"People are always saying the West End is a dangerous neighbourhood," he said. "In reality, it’s like any other neighbourhood and adding stuff like this maybe people will come by and experience the West End more."
Castillo and his friend Osani Balkaran referred to themselves as the "sous chefs" of the project because they were in charge of prepping the walls with primer before the more intricate details got added.
"It makes you proud of your neighbourhood whenever you walk by it," Balkaran said. "It’s a big thing to want to show someone your neighbourhood and where you come from."
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.