Why the CAC’s Mini-March was (surprisingly) Empowering


In the weeks leading up to January 21, 2017, I was actually disappointed I was scheduled to facilitate a Pop-Up Art Hive at a neighborhood library. It was the same day as the International’s Women’s March (originally set in Washington, Montreal was having its own Sister March) and I would get to take part. Since the election in November of a truly despicable person in the U.S. (which happened to be my home the first 22 years of my life), I had already been feeling insignificant, as a young Latinx woman. Getting left out of a march defending women’s rights just added to the feelings of powerlessness.

I communicated with Melanie and Lindsay to think of ways our event could be held in Solidarity with the March. We wouldn’t get too political, but we could encourage participants–young and old–to reflect on what they’d like to change in their own lives or in the world. I set to work planning our projects. The “secret theme” of the Pop-Up became Empowerment.

January 21st started as most Pop-Up days do: getting to the Benny Library early for set-up. The difference was that myself, Lindsay, Woo-Mi, and our other volunteer for the morning discussed the March: we were at the library, but our minds were at the Place-des-Arts Esplanade (or in Washington).

However, when participants started to trickle in and begin our “mini-March” project, I realized I was exactly where I needed to be.

Some participants took the project seriously and wrote messages on their mini-protest signs; others took it in a completely different direction (someone decided their egg carton was a dinosaur).

Some participants discussed politics; others were just there for something valuable to do with their family.

Everyone left the space in a much better mood than when they arrived. I was reminded of the magic of making art in the community. We–the Cheap Art Collective–helped make it happen.

Photo by Lindsay Fleming


Public spaces, like metro stations, community centers, and the library remind me about the beauty of Diversity our city of Montreal should be proud of.  We tend to live in bubbles–one bubble for those who think like us (or look like us), another bubble (wayyy over there) for those with a different set of values. Public spaces burst those bubbles, and the Cheap Art Collective (and the many other organizations working in the community) take the mix of people from all walks of life and encourage them to make art, Together.

I will always be grateful I’m a part of the Cheap Art Collective.  I realized that day I wasn’t weak at all, and I could turn something I love into something extraordinary that, at least could brighten someone’s day. (At best, perhaps some participants also realized their own potential to make change.)

The next day I received an e-mail with an attached photo, thanking me for the mini protest sign and I had given her and her children. My heart just about melted.

Photo by Sarah Wolfson

Haunted Melrose Tunnel 2016

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Melrose Tunnel–a pedestrian walkway underneath the railroad tracks that divides St. Raymond from the rest of NDG–has always been a focus for the Cheap Art Collective’s creativity. Before the Haunted Tunnel, we’d already been occasionaly decorating it. In 2010, Melanie Stuy suggested we alter the negative perception of the Melrose Tunnel by using the space to hang art made by the community. We hung self-portraits made by children and seniors in the community, Melanie’s special activity.
I mostly remember getting on on board when it came to decorating for Halloween. I love the holiday;  I didn’t really get to celebrate it when I was young. So when Mel had us over at her home to make Halloween crafts to hang up, I was all for it. And slowly (as Melanie became focused on other amazing projects), I’ve gone from participant to coordinator for at least the past three years, with lots (and I mean LOTS) of help from the NDG Community Council and my friends.
This year, the NDG Art Hive dedicated some of its donated funds towards paying me for coordinating the Haunted Melrose Tunnel–for the very first time! Although I love this tradition so much I’d continue to volunteer, it was very touching to get paid. It gave my time and hard work value, and I worked that much harder. My hope is that if it does become a paid position, there’s a higher chance this tradition will go on even if I’m unable to continue.
I shared the wealth by hiring Emily M, a young resident of St. Raymond, to take pictures (all the pictures on this blog are hers!) and film our major crafting events. I’m hoping to edit that together soon into a short video that can be shared at summertime film festivals and online.
Every year I’m always a little surprised the Haunted Melrose Tunnel comes together. Decorations were made at multiple events with various partners: the Westhaven and St. Raymond Community Centres, the St. Raymond’s Residents Action Group, NDG Senior’s Atelier, the Notre-Dame de Grace Bears and Cubs, and the Unitarian Church of Montreal. When the day arrived to paint the mural in the Tunnel, we had great attendance! I’ll also be eternally grateful to the group that showed up on a VERY cold Halloween morning to put everything up–also thankful we went out for hot chocolate afterwards.
On Halloween night, I could hear families reacting to what we’ve done, as they walked through the Haunted Tunnel. I felt a glow of pride. No matter how chaotic it gets, it’s always worth it.
I’ve already got ideas for next year.

Happy new days… Jolly New Year 2017


Happy new days… Jolly New Year.  Here is an old french poem called Vivre Mieux by Roland Giguère to usher in the new year 2017.

Roland Giguère, Vivre Mieux, 1949

Vivre Mieux
La lumière avait su me prendre
En plein délire
Les yeux droits dans les miroirs
Les mains au coeur du torrent
Je détournai de moi
Les palmes noirs que l’on m’offrait
Je quittai pour toujours
Les routes jalonnées de feux morts
Pour d’autres routes plus larges
Où mon sang confondait le ciel comme une flèche confound sa cible
Je commençai à vivre mieux.

Woo-Mi Yoo, translation of Vivre Mieux, 2017

The light aware
of my complete delirium
My eyes levelled to my reflection
My hands in the heart of the torrent
I walked away
Held up my blacken palms
I left forever
The roads dimmer at each stop
For roads wider
Where my blood confound to sky
Like an arrow struck its’ match
I began to live.


The Fall of the Tyranny Rexes


Summer 2015 was my family’s first in Montreal. We quickly settled into our NDG apartment and became regulars at the NDG Art Hive in Girouard park. When the queen bees put out the call for large pieces of cardboard, my recycling-loving heart skipped a beat – our moving boxes and Ikea packaging would be turned into the set for the Cheap Art Collective’s Giant Puppet Show for Country En Ville. When organizer, Melanie Stuy, put out the call for participants, our family of six was thrilled to get involved.

Fast forward to February 2016. Melanie wished to get a head start on this year’s production for Country En Ville. August seemed far away, but when your collective is composed of parent volunteers with school, work, and other responsibilities, time is a rare commodity. I was excited to be a part of the story-building process and attended the first meeting around Mel’s kitchen table in March.

Everyone in attendance readily agreed to build a story around use of resources and distribution of wealth. Mel had a general sense that we’d need to create a character to represent the 1% and a burning desire to build a giant papier mache dinosaur. The kids jumped on this idea and insisted there had to be cyborgs, too. With radical inclusion being at the forefront of the CAC’s mission, we chose to honour this suggestion, even if we didn’t quite know what to do with it to start. As we continued to float ideas, the amazing Joanne Penhale recalled a quote credited to Alanis Obomsawin, an Abenaki from the Odanak reserve, northeast of Montreal:

When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.

And just like that, the story unfolded. We’d open on creatures living in harmony until the T-rexes arrived with an intent to build wealth at the expense of these critters and their habitat. They’d eventually be swallowed by the earth they were destroying and we’d close with our quote.

All of a sudden it was July and there was much to be done to pull this off. Melanie got to work on building the puppets and Yvette took the lead on the set and props. Despite being the new kid on the block, the CAC entrusted me to fill out the script, developing narration and dialogue. I really connected with the native wisdom in the chosen quote and knew we wanted to use our most-loved puppet, Mother Earth, so I turned to creation stories for further inspiration. As the script unfolded, the dinosaurs were named the Tyranny Rexes and bore a tragic resemblance to white settlers in North America. It became necessary to comment on important social justice issues, such as the residential school system and police brutality, so these elements were worked into the storyline.

Participants were recruited from the CAC and Art Hive and anyone who showed an interest in what we were doing was asked to join. The NDG Seniors Atelier got on board and made some amazing props. Roles were assigned and rehearsals began. On summer schedules, it was rare the entire cast and crew could all be there at the same time, but piece-by-piece it came together. When our musical accompaniment fell through, Old Time Honey, came to the rescue.

I don’t think any of us felt ready the day of the show. The kids were excited, the adults were nervous, and everyone was comforted by Mel’s reminder that it was supposed to be fun. Just go out there and have a good time.

The band started to play, cuing our flag dancers to enter, followed by the Great Spirit, the earth, the sea, and the sky. Creatures filled the land and were given to Mother Nature to protect. The Tyranny Rexes entered with their cyborgs and were greeted with an enthusiastic round of jeers. When the fatigued creatures protested, “Less Work, Fair Pay” the audience was quick to join in. When the Great Spirit and Mother Nature wept for their creation, a hush fell upon the crowd. When the T-Rexes were swallowed by the rising seas, the audience cheered. Mother nature sent her pixies to revive the sleeping creatures and the final quote was received with warm applause. The band began to play and Mother Earth led the puppets and actors in parade about the park. We went out there and had a good time.




St. Raymond Cityscape Garden Edge

When an Animator with the After School program at the St. Raymond Community Center let me know the kids were asking to do another Art Project (they had helped with the Haunted Melrose Tunnel and Kay Noelle’s Quilted Quartier project), Jody Negley’s St. Henri project instantly came to mind. Besides celebrating the beauty of the city, there was something about it that had plenty of potential as a group art project. If I could stumble upon enough wood, each child could decorate a single piece that would go into the collective result.

That was the real appeal: every piece of wood was to be “cast-off bits” from “local handymen, construction sites, garbage day and any lumberyard” (quoted from Jody Negley’s introduction to her project). Neighbors and friends were very eager to donate their extra wood when asked.


As the wood pile grew, so did plans for the workshops with the the After School group. Our biggest worry was the paint: since the end result would stay outside, the paint needed to be waterproof..in other words, unwashable. In a large group of children, that could mean trouble: many of them wore school uniforms, plus there was a big chance paint would get on the walls of floors of the Center. Talking to Agi and Simeon of Commité Jeunesse, we decided to paint outside, with only half the AS group, wearing whatever smocks I could find. Despite the adult’s worries, everything was just fine.


Well, it was our usual creative chaos. The step-by-step plans I made flew out the window. Not because the kids were unruly, but because they were so eager. After choosing their board from an assortment of sizes, they wrote their names on the back and drew plans for windows and doors. I insisted every window be filled with white or yellow paint so there was some uniformity, but after that everything was up to them.

I was extremely grateful to Melanie Stuy and Cindy Haughton for coming out to help with the distribution of brushes, paint, glue, woodbits for decoration, glasses of water to clean brushes, and still more paint. The results of our first workshop were so cute!



Our second workshop, they had a chance to finish painting details and glue on extras such as sequins. Some older kids who hadn’t had a chance the week before asked if there were any materials left for them. Of course! I was touched by how politely they helped me clean the paintbrushes.

Anyone who was done decorating was ready for the next step in the process: assembly. Working on Jody’s advice, the plan was to screw each building to a longer board. I held the boards in place as the children took turns with a manual screwdriver. It wasn’t easy. We all twisted too quickly and managed to scrape our hands. But at the end of the 2nd workshop, a few rows of buildings were ready. Now came the hardest part.


A tricky issue was the length of the garden bed. I had measured it at 14.5 ft, and had more than enough materials…but the more I worked against gravity the more I realized that length would be difficult to keep standing. Melanie had the brilliant idea of creating two end caps built with 3 sides each to prevent tippy, that could be connected with rope for the rest of the garden border. If the small wooden buildings were our imaginary city, the real garden was the greenspace we’d love to see central to our city. And the string could be a clotheline—featured in many CAC projects because of the ease in displaying art on clothespins.

20160613_102645Some time in all of this, I forgot the Cheap Art Collective’s purpose, and I did most of the work myself. Since all the materials were at my home, I’d use any free time I had to connect another individual piece. This took many weeks and I learned many things, such as how knots in the wood were a nightmare to screw into place that led to much cursing and very often pain.

The screwdriver, by the way, broke by the end of this. My husband Mikon–who had shown me to pre-drill holes in thinner boards so they wouldn’t split–taught me how to use the electric screwdriver for the final attachments. With many squeals I learned how to use it, where to lean my weight.

Somehow, everything came together. My daughter Isabelle helped me bring the largest pieces over to the St. Raymond Community Centre (feeling very self-conscience all the way). They were held together with zipties and yet more screws (done with a broken screwdriver, naturally).

The clothes on the line were a perfect way to thank everybody involved, especially Jody.

Although it was such a long process, I hope this is the first of many cityscape garden fences made in St. Raymond.

Next time, I won’t hesitate to ask for more help.


Earth Day Giant Puppet Parade 2016

Image: Mother Earth head done in papier mâché, wearing a purple headscarf with beaded black hair. (Photo by Lindsay Fleming)
Meet Mother Earth, the Cheap Art Collective’s tallest puppet and star of our last two puppet shows taking place during NDG Arts Week every summer.  This Earth Day, we decided to bring her out to celebrate at Co-Op La Maison Verte’s “Célébrons le jour de la Terre” event. The collective, our friends, and passers-by formed small but happy group of folks from all over NDG. Melanie donned the Mother Earth puppet as we paraded down Sherbrooke St. to the delight of pedestrians and drivers alike, especially as the group started singing whatever came to mind.
“The Earth is Our Mother…. We Must Take Care of Her!”
Image: Left) Melanie Stuy wearing the Mother Earth puppet: a sheet cascades from below Mother Earth head just above her. Right) Children holding a “Happy Earth Day” banner in the park with Mother Earth puppet just behind. (Photos by Lindsay Fleming)
The gloriously sunny day meant there were many people playing and picnicking at NDG Park, where the group paraded through and brought a smile to every face. We even passed around the Chalet, home to  NDG Park Art Hive last summer (and excited to get back in there this year!). More people joined us as we headed back to the Co-Op to play and enjoy music performed by the NDG Singing Circle.
Image: A group of people of various ages standing on the side of Sherbrooke Street in the sun. Mother Earth puppet stands in the middle. (Photo by Lindsay Fleming)
Amazingly, this was another activity that was born in St. Raymond. Two years ago (Earth Day 2014), a group of neighbors decided a wonderful way to celebrate Earth Day would be to parade with our puppets and instruments down Upper Lachine into Oxford Park.
Image: Top Left) Caterpillar puppet on the sidewalk. Bottom Left) Grey fish puppet with puppeteers peeking out underneath. Right) Families who took part in first Earth Day Giant Puppet Parade. (Photos by Melanie Stuy)
 It was silly and fun. The children loved it. Back then as it was this year, perhaps the one thing celebrated even more than Earth that day was the amazing bond between the Cheap Art Collective’s members.