Drawing youth voices into community activism


- Lauren Frost

Kay Gallivan next to a mural she painted for Studio Robazzo in 2017.

If you’ve seen or heard about community-based murals and mural workshops in the Greater Victoria community, there’s a good chance that Bachelor of Education student Kay Gallivan was involved. A long-time professional muralist and activist, Gallivan has worked with a variety of organizations and community groups including PEERS Victoria, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness and several local high schools.

For Gallivan, working with youth in local schools made the choice to move to teaching an easy one. “My heart always feels so full when I’m teaching mural painting workshops—it is inspiring to see people stretch themselves, come together, and create something,” she says.

Adaptable program facilitates arts-based teaching practice

Students painting a mural outside
Kay Gallivan works with Reynolds Secondary School students on a mural outside of Rob Flemings' office.

When Gallivan first decided to pursue teaching, she did so with the long-term goal of introducing community-based art into high schools. She wasn’t expecting to truly start working towards that goal until after graduation, and she certainly wasn’t expecting to create a renowned community art exhibit with high school students in her first year of the program.

In the fall of 2019, Gallivan was given access to an abandoned pre-demolition house and had plans to turn it into a community art space. She was also starting her teacher education program at this time, and was working with students at Esquimalt High School as part of her coursework. The coinciding timing of the two projects, and the willingness of her instructors to adapt her coursework to her unique interests and goals, helped Gallivan to develop a youth-centred approach to transforming the abandoned home.

“I thought it would be cool to use the community art space as an opportunity to have the students share what they were working on with the world,” she says. “The students wanted to focus on climate change and mental health, so we decided on the idea of a Climate Anxiety Haunted House.”

With its powerful images—some of text scrawled furiously on the walls and others of whimsical monsters symbolizing capitalism, colonialism, and systems of greed and oppression— Wasteland: Climate Anxiety Haunted House, the result of her work with the high school students and over 40 local artists, caught the attention of the community and a number of media outlets, including CTV News, in November 2019.

As the threat of climate change continues to grow while its causes remain largely unaddressed on a national and global scale, centering youth voices in the discussion of social and political issues has become an increasingly important endeavour—one that seemed to resonate deeply with the Greater Victoria community.

Seeing all the diverse art pieces roll in from the students and other artists, and the public reception, really brought home how much anxiety is felt about the climate and how healing it can be to process difficult feelings together rather than alone.
Kay Gallivan, UVic class of 2020

Learning to teach during COVID-19

As with all professions, teaching has had to make significant shifts in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teacher candidates like Gallivan have been dealing with two sides of these educational changes; not only are they, like post-secondary students in other programs, learning how to learn remotely, they also need to learn how to teach remotely.

But Gallivan is confident that, while education in the pandemic is often not ideal, there will be lasting benefits that come from the local, national, and global community of educators working together to reimagine teaching and learning.

“It is interesting to see how some changes that are being made in schools due to COVID actually have non-COVID-related benefits,” says Gallivan. “I’m sure that a lot will be learned from all the innovating that this emergency has required.”

Transforming the school system—one mural at a time

Gallivan painting a mural outside
Gallivan works on her most recent mural, "Time Flies".

Just like her murals, Gallivan’s future as a secondary school teacher is bright. She is sure that incorporating art and activism into her teaching practice will lead to impactful learning experiences for both her and her future students. “I’ve learned that the educational environment of a classroom benefits tremendously when teachers bring their passions into their teaching,” she says.

“I am excited to bring more public art into the school system. How is that going to look? Keep watching to find out!”


In this story

Keywords: convocation, student life, arts, climate, mental health, health

People: Kay Gallivan

Publication: The Ring

Related stories