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Continuing Studies Instructor Helps Bring Main Street Mosaic to Life

December 16, 2011

Red River College Continuing Studies instructor Ursula Neufeld has helped transform one of Main Street’s most colourful landmarks into a similarly eclectic downtown showpiece, while at the same time providing a creative outlet for those struggling with mental illness, addiction and homelessness.

Neufeld, a local visual artist who teaches Early Childhood Education courses at RRC, has for the last two years served in a lead role on a community arts project launched by local artists at the Red Road Lodge, 631 Main St. (formerly the New Occidental Hotel, now a transitional housing complex for at-risk individuals).

The result is a stunning outdoor mosaic located on the Lodge’s north-facing wall — one that’s inspired by traditional Aboriginal teachings, but also reflective of the diverse backgrounds of the hundreds of people who’ve contributed to its completion.

“We wanted to do something beautiful for the neighbourhood — to share in the creative process with the people here,” says Neufeld of the creative types behind Studio 631, an arts and culture resource housed within the Lodge. “But they didn’t just want to do a painting — they wanted to do something different.”

The mosaic, which should be finished and officially unveiled by spring 2012, features depictions of the sacred animals representing the seven traditional Aboriginal teachings.

Designed by local artists and residents of the Lodge, it was constructed with the help of hundreds of volunteers — among them, participants of programs delivered through nearby Siloam Mission, the Salvation Army, and the Main Street Project. The project received financial support from the Manitoba Arts Council and Neighbourhoods Alive, and many of the materials used were donated by Olympia Tile and Ceretec Ceramic Tiles.

“The program really brought people together,” says Neufeld, after explaining that in Aboriginal culture, the Red Road refers to the path leading to a healthy life in mind, body and spirit.

“For these people — who at times were very isolated in their times of addiction or their recovery — it really helped them to express themselves. And also, it allowed them to be part of a healthy community project.”

Neufeld’s skills as a mosaic artist — combined with her background in early childhood education — allowed her to transition smoothly into a mentorship role while working with Lodge residents and other at-risk individuals who’d never worked on such an expansive project before. In addition to helping them channel their inner artists, the mosaic project also provided participants with practical skills in stained glass assembly, tile cutting and placement, and grouting.

Now that the mosaic is almost complete, Neufeld will be turning her attention to a new project in the Central Park area. (Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to contact her at neufeldu@mymts.net.)

In the meantime, she looks forward to officially revealing the finished Lodge mosaic — especially given how warmly the project has already been received.

“Throughout this process, people would always say, ‘That’s going to be vandalized in no time at all,'” says Neufeld. “But not once in two years has the wall been vandalized! There is just so much respect for it, because people in the community either know somebody who worked on the wall, or they themselves worked on it. It’s become a huge source of pride.”

Click here to learn more about Early Childhood Education at Red River College.