The following program was funded by a grant from the Community Radio Fund of Canada and the Government of Canada’s Local Journalism Initiative.

This story is about small acts of community building for kids on Cortes Island. Signs of Spring was a community art project- in which children’s artwork were displayed in their driveways during the Corona Virus Outbreak of 2020.

signs of spring
Cortes Currents: Odette Auger talks about Signs of Spring

The hope was that the kids taking part could see that they are all part of a bigger picture and that they are experiencing the situation together. 

For 17 years, I’ve been working with island children in a range of settings…in all my work, art making has brought the group together. 

When COVID19 hit, my kids were also impacted in different ways-

  • a university student couldn’t return to her kitchen job at Hollyhock, 
  • a grade 9 had been recognized with an Indigenous student award, and the very day of the award ceremony, all school district activities were cancelled.  She returned to public school to finish her last year of Cortes schooling with friends in class- not now… 
  • and a 7 year old sorely missed his friends and classroom. 

I read about WindowsUK project and knew we could do this on Cortes, tweaked a little for our rural island reality. 

When times are hard, it could go many ways… but I’m a hopeful type by nature, and I was dearly missing my young friends in the schoolyard at lunch time, and at afterschool programming… so I felt the need for Community-building spirit to blaze stronger than ever right now. That’s why I applied for a neighbourhood grant stream from Victoria Foundation that funded small-scale projects that involve reducing social isolation.

Responsive Neighbourhood Small Grants

Public health orders to physically distance from others has had the unintended impact of creating more social isolation. But so many of you are stepping up to counteract this. Thousands are already self-organizing online to support each other out of their own pockets. That’s why the Victoria Foundation has partnered with the Vancouver Foundation and community foundations across Vancouver Island to bring the Responsive Neighbourhood Small Grants program to our communities. Responsive NSG will fund small-scale projects that involve reducing social isolation.”

What is a Responsive NSG Grant?

The Responsive NSG grant stream provides grants of up to $500 for projects that connect people socially or involve sharing skills or talents with each other. Projects must comply with public health orders for physical distancing.

Responsive NSG supports projects that build community by finding ways to connect with people socially. Examples of such projects are delivering care packages to elderly or immunocompromised people in the neighbourhood.

Responsive NSG also supports projects that involve sharing skills or talents through online platforms. Examples include hosting a webinar on a topic you know well, teaching an exercise class, or digital musical performance. 

Now more than ever, we need to stay connected with our neighbours and community members. This will keep our communities resilient and able to recover sooner after the crisis.

Victoria Foundation believes the best people to effect change in a community are the ones within it. And they say “when we can make money less of an issue- in doing so, it allows so many more kinds of ideas to shine.” 

Signs of Spring

Signs of Spring was inspired by  an idea from the UK- where children created drawings for their windows, greetings for passersby. Debbie Gillard coordinated UK kids windows: 

“Our UKkidswindows group is growing by the minute

We are being joined by families from all over the world now, [we reached 55,000!] and we extend a very warm welcome to everyone. 

We are celebrating positivity and togetherness in these difficult times by encouraging our kids to create rainbow pictures and place in their home windows as a message of hope to their neighbours and the world at large. ” – Debbie Gillard, UKkidswindows

Here on Cortes, a number of families have painted cheerful “Signs of Spring” for their driveways.  We provided all of the necessary painting media and offered island kids an opportunity to be creative and connect with neighbours  in this accessible and low-barrier social-connection. We provided the families with plywood 24” x 24”  which provided the art material for self expression, but also an opportunity to communicate broadly with islanders as a whole, as they drove by to pick up their mail, drop off recycling. 

In a rural setting, we have outdoors, beach, garden, forest for kids to run around in. We also have long, treed driveways on rural roads with less casual passing by community moments such as sidewalk opportunities than a city or town has. 

Families were happy to receive paints delivered in a no-contact drop, new student grade acrylics in 3 primaries plus black and white. After 1 month, 2 months isolation, their personal art supplies were running out! Youth were asked to look around outside, what was their favourite sign of spring right now, today? Robins, Daffodils… They were asked to choose one, paint one that filled the plywood square- something that made them smile, and would bring a smile to someone else driving by… 

“..yeah, maybe they don’t have kids to play with.. “

“Maybe they don’t have brothers or sisters… like i have a sister but she’s older…

“ and maybe it’s someone older who lives alone and all their groups have stopped happening… “

It promoted community connections as well as a keepsake of these historical times. 

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we look to keep ensuring the event stays fresh and accessible to all if granted again in the future. Keep painting, Cortes kids!

It looks like our world is changing slowly step by step. 

We can begin to see our friends and family more, albeit still practising social distancing. It will be an even greater moment when we can hug our loved ones again. 

Many of us will be starting to venture out a little now while some of us will still be adhering to 6 foot distancing. Small community building projects have been a source of great comfort and pleasure to so many of us over the last few months. 

I love my signs of spring at the driveway,  it still makes me smile every time I look at it. 

Thank you so much to everyone for your beautiful picture contributions and for sharing glimpses into your families life throughout what has been a very out of the ordinary time for us all. Take care.