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For the Birds

Art show featuring Mount Allison University students’ work, artist’s workshop focus on commemorating wildlife protection and connecting with nature

By: Dawn Morrison

Stroll through the Sackville Waterfowl Park on a warm spring day, and you may hear the chatter of belted kingfishers or see the acrobatic flights of tree swallows over open water. These and other local species of migratory birds flourish today thanks in part to collaborative, international conservation efforts going back a century.

It is fitting that this milestone was marked recently with a successful collaboration between Mount Allison’s Fine Arts department and Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) in Sackville. Together, they organized a series of events to celebrate the Migratory Birds Convention Centennial — an agreement between Canada and the United States protecting migratory birds. The events were also part of Heritage Canada’s Canada 150 Countdown.

Members of the Sackville community and Mount Allison students, faculty and staff came together for events including a highly successful student art show and community art workshop.

Sixteen of Mount A’s Fine Arts students created commissioned pieces of art over the summer for a show entitled For the Birds. The original pieces expressed the students’ appreciation for migratory bird conservation.

“The work produced by our students was extraordinary,” says Thaddeus Holownia, Mount Allison’s Fine Arts department head. “The overall quality far surpassed their level of education and experience. We had students from all years submit work, including those in first year. The results surpassed all of my expectations.”

The students’ commissioned works were purchased, giving them invaluable real-world experience as a working artist.

“For most of our students, this project represents the first time their work has been shown outside of a student-run event. They took on the responsibility of submitting a proposal, following through on it, and producing work that was powerful, mature, and authentic. It is immensely satisfying to know that when our students are challenged, they rise to the occasion," Holownia says.

He notes the show included a wide variety of artwork, including drawing, mixed media, painting, photography, printmaking, installation, and fibre arts.

Third-year biology student Adrian Kiva says the project brought art and science together and provided an incredible opportunity to produce commissioned work.

“It was great to have the whole summer to investigate, research, try different avenues, and ultimately create these pieces,” he says. “The assignment pushed my boundaries professionally and it expanded my art practice by putting it to use for something bigger than myself. It opened my eyes to what is possible.”

The idea for the partnership with Mount Allison’s Fine Arts department originated with Garry Donaldson, biologist with Sackville’s CWS office.

“Bird conservation and art are two key institutions in Sackville, so it was a natural fit,” he says, adding that he and his colleagues were thrilled with the resulting student art show.

“It was fantastic to see students engaging so fully with the subject matter and combining art with the environment. The body of work the students produced is incredibly impressive,” he says. “I can’t stress enough how pleased we are with how these events were organized and implemented.”

Members of the Sackville community also took part in the celebrations. A community painting workshop, Painting for the Birds, was led by Mount Allison graduate Angela Thibodeau (BFA ’02). Novice painters came to the Purdy Crawford Centre for the Arts to try their hand at capturing the splendour of nature and the migratory birds often seen in and around Sackville.

“This event was so successful, there was a waiting list to get in,” Thibodeau says. “It was wonderful to see the town and University come together to celebrate this important commitment between countries to protect wildlife.”

The student art show is currently displayed at the Purdy Crawford Centre for the Arts. Plans are underway to tour the exhibition across Canada, including at the National Capital during Canada’s 150th anniversary and potentially at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

Visit: Artist Angela Thibodeau’s website
Watch: Hinterland Who’s Who celebrates the Migratory Birds Convention Centennial