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Indigenous youth rise to artistic challenge for Salmon Arm non-profit

Rise Up Indigenous Wellness hope mural of old-growth forest
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Janessa Wilson, Sarah Wiens and Jeremiah Vergara work on a mural of an old-growth forest inside the Salmon Arm office of Rise Up Indigenous Wellness on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)

Janessa Wilson and Jeremiah Vergara are expanding their artistic abilities while painting a forested expanse for Rise Up Indigenous Wellness.

The two Grade 11 students are among a group of Indigenous youth participating in a mural painting project organized by Rise Up’s Launa Payne and Sherrelle Anderson. Payne said the mural, being painted on a wall inside the non-profit organization’s Salmon Arm office at 875 Lakeshore Dr. W, is being done in partnership with the Salmon Arm Art Gallery and the Vernon and District Immigrant and Community Society.

“This mural will be completed by local artist Sarah Wiens and a rotating group of Indigenous youth,” said Payne. “The youth will learn important art skills at the guidance of a professional artist.

“The space is used for youth groups and programs, so the intention is that the visual of an old growth forest will be calming and therapeutic. At Rise Up, we believe that land is medicine and all of our programs reflect this belief.”

Though Janessa and Jeremiah are already talented artists, neither have embarked on a project of such scale.

“I’ve never done a painting this big,” said Jeremiah, who was painting with Janessa and Wiens on Friday, Nov. 3. “I don’t really do too much artwork with nature – normally do other kind of scenery. It will be nice doing something new.”

Wiens said when she saw Jeremiah’s sketchbooks, she knew he’d be right for the job.

“I didn’t know what these guys would bring, I just knew whoever comes, I’ll figure out how to show them stuff and have them be a part of it,” said Wiens. “When I saw Jeremiah’s sketchbook two weeks ago I was like, OK, I have good people. These guys are going to be great.”

Jeremiah noted he’s picked up some of his skill with a paintbrush from his mother.

“My mom has always loved painting – I’ve always liked watching her paint,” said Jeremiah. “She does a lot of scenery. She sells quite a bit of her artwork as well. She showed me quite a few things with painting.”

Janessa also shares a love for art and does a lot already with Payne and Rise Up.

“My mom works with her and even before that I did a lot of stuff with her,” said Janessa, noting the mural is something different.

“It’s a lot bigger – usually it’s just a page, but this is a whole wall,” said Janessa.

Another of Janessa’s artistic creations is expected to be revealed to Salmon Arm early next year: a new Salmon Arm Silverbacks logo.

Wiens expects the project will take about six days to complete.

Rise Up is an Indigenous run and directed organization created to address gaps in services for Indigenous children, youth and families. It provides holistic programs designed to empower Indigenous people on their path to wellness. For more information, visit riseupindigenouswellness.ca.

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