The Campbell River Arts Council has produced the Banner Project since 1994. Usually the Arts Council supplies banners, stretchers and paint to local schools and community groups every spring. Themes are selected each year and students, alongside community members and artists, produce banners that then get hung on the street poles throughout the city during the summer months. On average we would produce around 80 banners for the City.
In 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic hit just as schools were starting the project. In a sense the Banner Project became quarantined within the local schools when they closed in mid-March. Naturally the first reaction was that the project would simply be put on hold – it wasn’t truly a priority when compared to the unfolding tragedy and health risk in our communities.
But as time progressed through March and early April, the stresses on families with kids at home were beginning to become more apparent. Online schooling presented new challenges, as did spouses working more from home, kids feeling isolated from friends and family units becoming distanced from extended family and neighbours. Online media content began to rise – but the very nature of spending increased amounts of time online can have the unintended consequence of further isolation within family units in the same household.
How could the Arts Council view a familiar program in a new way and adapt it to the new times? In looking at the logistics of the Banner Project, we determined that is was feasible to move the project from being produced by local schools, to having families produce the banners within their own home. We could deliver to any requesting family, a banner kit – paint (red, yellow, blue, black, white – in individual tubs) and a banner. Instructions were emailed to any requesting family as to how to paint a banner (best practices). The theme was chosen as ‘Unity Through Community’.
Response was overwhelming. We had 135 families request banner kits almost immediately. I personally delivered a kit to every home, practising social distancing and hyper hygiene of each kit. Delivery plans were scheduled via email and each family was notified of a delivery.
I was completely overwhelmed by the positive and joyful reaction of families as they received their kit. Parents and kids were equally excited to be receiving an opportunity to engage together in a fun and colourful activity. Their reaction was truly enthusiastic and inspirational.
It struck me that I was delivering “colour” to households during a dispiriting pandemic. In doing so I (on behalf of the Arts Council) was also offering an opportunity for creative expression, something essential during difficult times. It is commonly known that through the arts we bond in communities, assist each other through both good and bad times, give a sense of meaning and purpose to daily life. The arts are both economic and social drivers for communities. Compassion, empathy and understanding are direct outcomes of engaging with the arts. The streets of Campbell River will this summer be the witness to what transpired.
Through the Banner Project, the resiliency and creative attitude of our community will be on display. The banners, as public art, will show what a community can achieve working one family at a time. Is this not what the arts do – hold a mirror up to ourselves so that we may see clearly our reflection?