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Voice and Vision collaboration bridges pen and paintbrush

“We love promoting literacy and this is a great marriage of that print literacy when it comes to writing, but also the creative side when it comes to the arts and the creations they make,” he said.

Since 2016, the Airdrie Public Library (APL) has sought to join pen and paintbrush with its Voice and Vision project – a collaborative program whereby writers and artists come together to create written and visual pieces inspired by each other's work.

Each year, artists and writers each present a piece (either written or visual) to fellow members of the Voice and Vision committee. They are then required to respond to an assigned member’s piece in a thoughtful way.

The final collaboration, including both written word and visual interpretation, is then displayed at the library in the fall. Finally, a formal gala is held to celebrate the co-created pieces, which are published in a book.

According to local writer and retired archaeologist Margaret Hanna, ever since joining the initiative in 2016 via her membership with the Airdrie Writers Group, taking part in the Voice and Vision program has felt like a wonderful creative challenge.

“It’s encouraging and it’s wonderful to have that kind of feedback and that support for what you’re doing,” Hanna said.

“Writing is sort of a solitary thing and it’s nice to be part of a community so you can get some feedback and some inspiration and motivation.”

Hanna said coming up with an idea for the first piece for Voice and Vision is always a bit of a challenge, but sometimes an idea just pops right into her head.

She added this year, it was more of the former.

“I got onto the idea of writing about a dress I had for years – an antique 1920s flapper dress,” she said.

The dress, which Hanna found at an auction, was her inspiration for a story of a young woman who cleans out her deceased grandmother’s closet and discovers the sparkling garment, giving new insight into her grandmother’s past.  

“She always remembered her grandmother as a fuddy duddy, and stuck in the back of the closet she finds this 1920s flapper dress. And she suddenly has this image of her grandmother as this young woman, sort of Avante Garde, living on the edge,” she said.

Hanna was partnered with local artist Veronica Funk, who was tasked with responding to the written submission with a visual representation.

“You never know who you’re going to be paired with because there is a dozen of us and so you’re paired randomly,” Hanna said.

“But the challenge is wonderful because it will put you out of your comfort zone.”

Funk, formerly the arts and culture coordinator for APL, said as an artist herself, she felt the Voice and Vision initiative was a great fit for the library, with its focus on arts and culture and showcasing local creatives.

When responding to Hanna’s written piece this year, Funk said she took inspiration from her daughter’s collection of eco-friendly dresses she designed and exhibited in Vancouver, featuring dresses from the 1920s to the 1970s.

“I had taken lots of photographs of her in these dresses that she had created,” Funk said. “As soon as I read Margaret’s piece, I knew exactly which photograph I wanted [to use].”

She said she incorporated inspiration from the photograph along with what Hanna had written about to design the artwork, including a feather boa, some beads, and implemented a rose pattern within the dress.

Funk added she felt a connection with Hanna’s piece, and remarked it was as if she and Hanna were destined to be partnered for the project.  

“I think it’s really interesting to see the connections we make, but it’s also so lovely to connect with the arts – the visual, the written – everything inspires each other,” Funk said.

“I know as an artist, what I read influences what I paint, so I don’t see any kind of disconnect in any of it and there’s this beauty in that as well.”

Likewise, Hanna was tasked with responding to Funk’s original artwork submission. Titled Trading Post, the work features a canoe with the colours of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The piece was inspired by Funk’s upbringing in northern Manitoba by the Churchill River in the Boreal Forest.

Funk said the piece is an homage to her youth, but has a surprising connection to Hanna’s own past.

“It turns out I spent a couple of summers up where [Funk] had grown up and most of my work [as an archaeologist] was in the Boreal Forest of northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan,” Hanna said. “So, I understood how important the canoe has been and still is to the people who live there.”

She added her response was written as if it were the canoe speaking to the audience, telling the history of the canoe through the Indigenous people living there, the fur traders, to the adventurers who come to the north in the current time, following a historical arc.

“It was so interesting to read what [Hanna] had written about what I had drawn, reflecting on her past, but also what’s happening in our world today and really how a canoe can reflect that,” Funk said of her partner’s response piece.

“She captured that in the words she wrote so well.”

According to Hanna, the Voice and Vision project creates a sense of community between writers and artists.

“We’re all creators and I think it’s important to the community at large to see just how vibrant and dynamic and extensive a group of artists and writers we have here in Airdrie,” she said. “I think the arts are often overlooked or underplayed.”

Eric Pottie, programming and customer engagement manager at APL, said the library hosts Voice and Vision each year to get artists and writers together inspire creativity.

“It’s always very fascinating to see where people take it and we love to be a part of that at the library to be able to celebrate that community creativity year in and year out,” he said.

Pottie added the submissions are on display now until October at the library in preparation for the Voice and Vision gala on Sept. 24. The event is hosted in tandem with Alberta Culture Days throughout the month of September.

“We love promoting literacy and this is a great marriage of that print literacy when it comes to writing, but also the creative side when it comes to the arts and the creations they make,” he said.

Carmen Cundy

About the Author: Carmen Cundy

Carmen Cundy joined the Airdrie Today team in March 2021.
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