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Sea Walls Churchill. Polar Bear Holding Facility mural. Artist: Kal Barteski. Photo by Tre Packard.

Sixteen world-class mural artists descended on Churchill, Manitoba this June as part of a project entitled Seal Walls: Churchill, in an effort to beautify the struggling Arctic port town, lift the spirits of the locals, and bring attention the unique environmental issues both in the area and in the world’s oceans.

All indications are that the project was a resounding success.

The collaboration between PangeaSeed Foundation and Winnipeg artist Kal Barteski (founder of the Polar Bear Fund), and organized and curated by Barteski, Sea Walls Churchill was the latest project in the larger Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans initiative, which began in 2014 in an effort to raise awareness of the dangers facing our oceans today.

Churchill has faced numerous major challenges over the past few years including the closure of their port, and more recently two snowstorms and a flood that damaged the railway line beyond any immediate repair. Food and fuel prices have risen as a result and the moral in Churchill needed a lift.

“The people were very genuine,” said Japanese artist Takashi Iwasaki, who painted The Pumphouse outside of Churchill. “We talked to them about their struggles, the railway and the port closing. It’s a beautiful life in Churchill, but not always easy. In a way it parallels the life of an artist. It’s tough and you can feel it in the people.”

One of the artists said that at first some the people didn’t really warm to the idea of 16 artists coming into their town, but once they got there the people started to¬† come out, and the painting brought a tear to many an eye among Churchill residents.

“It’s memories and reflections of past and present,” said Australian artist Georgia Hill. “To make you think about the future. There was a definite feeling of the people wanting to have their spirits lifted.”

The 16 huge murals were finished near the end of June by artists from all over the world that included: Arlin (from Brazil), Askew One (New Zealand), Case Maclaim (Germany), Charles Johnston (Canada), Cracked Ink (United Kingdom), Dulk (Spain), Fred Thomas (Canada), Georgia Hill (Australia), Jason Botkin (Canada), Kai Kaulukukui (USA), Kal Barteski (Canada), Kelsey Eliasson (Canada), Li Hill (Canada), Mandy VanLeeuwen (Canada), Pat Lazo (Canada), Pat Perry (USA), Storm Angeconeb (Canada) and Takashi Iwasaki (Japan).

“We do not want to impose,” said Akira Biondo, Diretor of Operations at PangeaSeed Foundation. “But rather to give the people of Churchill something they can thrive on, something they can build upon. And the vast majority of the funding for this project was raised locally. It’s more difficult to do it that way, but it’s just not beneficial to get foreign funding.”

“The people wanted us to come,” said Tre Pakard, Founder & Executive Director of PangeaSeed Foundation. “It was an amazing example of how a community can bring people together to make the world a better place. It’s all volunteers. And this project really put us through our paces. Twelve to 13 hours a day, weather, mosquitoes, logistics, bear guards. It was painting for a purpose. These people are about our oceans and our environment. We want to do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

“Churchill has faced so many challenges,” said Barteski. “The port closure, two major blizzards, a flood and the losing of the railway. Pangea was very open minded. The major portion of the budget went to the bear guards. We couldn’t have made this happen without them, someone who understands the environment. These are some of the best mural artists in the world. We were nearly killed by the mosquitoes in Churchill. There were so many reasons to quit.”

“We hope it will help people to connect with the environment,” said Biondo. “And help boost the economy. We need people to care.”

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