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Vernon art project asks, Who are you?

Annika Lauraston, Violet Nicholson and Ilesha Szerepi put the finishing touches on their board.
March 12, 2015 - 5:00 PM

VERNON - Queer, real, stereotyped. Victorious over victimization. Fragile and fighting back.

These are some of the words and phrases you’ll find painted alphabetically on large boards as part of a project called Respect Lives Here, sponsored by the Social Planning Council for the North Okanagan. Participants from the Vernon Women’s Transition House, Vernon District Immigrants Service Society, Vernon Community School, Canadian Mental Health Association, North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society, Pregnancy Outreach Program and an LGBQT group are all involved in the project. The boards will be featured at the Vernon Public Art Gallery Mar. 21 and permanently displayed on a downtown wall after that.

Facilitator Ryan Robson says the participants were asked a seemingly simple question: Who are you?

“They had to respond by running through the letters of the alphabet starting with 'I am'. Whatever came into their head we wrote down,” Robson says. “I encouraged them to be open and honest.”

From lists of around 300 words, each group then picked out the most powerful ones to paint on their board.

“As people we’re so many things. Sometimes we get really caught up with one or two things that we are and we think that’s all that we are, when in reality we’re so many multiples, good and bad, positive and negative,” Robson says. “It struck up some really good conversations and broke the silence on issues that happen and need to be addressed.”

Caven Simmons, 17, is part of the group painting the LGBTQ board and describes feeling emotionally attached to the piece. 

“I’m trans myself so it’s just like, I understand what it’s like to come out of the closet, it’s hard to be accepted everywhere you go but you’ve just got to be positive and keep your head high and go forward,” Simmons says. “I can’t wait to hear and see everybody’s responses and see what everybody thinks of it. I think there’s going to be a pretty positive outcome.”

Asked about the overall tone of the LGBTQ board, artist Caven Simmons said
Asked about the overall tone of the LGBTQ board, artist Caven Simmons said "It's just real."

Working on the North Okanagan Youth and Family Services board — predominantly painted in blue to reflect the society’s colours — is Desiree Golnick-Ross, 18.

“The board's a really good representation of who we are, what we’ve come through, what we’re going through,” she says.  “Victorious over victimization is probably my favourite part of this whole board because a lot of us came from things that weren’t fun or had something happen that wasn’t fun… and we came through it.”

The show at the Vernon Public Art Gallery Mar. 21 is from 1-3 p.m. Artists will be reading from their boards starting around 1:30 p.m.

Robson encourages everyone to try writing their own I am alphabets — you might be surprised at the words that come out.

Part of the Vernon Women's Transition House board.
Part of the Vernon Women's Transition House board.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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