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Artist Features

Looking through the glass: If the Drumming Stops

April 28, 2023

The Valley Line Southeast LRT project is adding a splash of colour and texture to communities along the route thanks to the City’s Percent for Art Policy, managed by the Edmonton Arts Council. 

The Valley Line Southeast LRT project’s public art collection includes 13 different projects including art glass at five of the eleven stops and at the Davies Transit Centre. This includes four stop canopy sculptures, a mosaic, a series of paintings and an inflatable sculpture. 

Individual artists, organizations and collectives sent in 260 submissions for the public art opportunities along the 13 km LRT route. Each submission was reviewed by a selection of committees made up of community members, local artist representatives, project personnel and City of Edmonton staff. The commissions were awarded to four Edmonton-based artists, two Alberta-based artists, one international artist, and an Indigenous artist team, composed of three Canadian-based artists. 

Let’s take a closer look at If the Drumming Stops, located at the Mill Woods Stop of the Valley Line Southeast.

Tania Willard and Peter Morin, from the New BC Indian Art and Welfare Society Collective, set out to create a piece that shows the interrelationship between the past and the present while connecting the community to stories of the original caretakers of the land. For the Papaschase, this included areas that are now part of Mill Woods.

Engaging with the community and the Papaschase First Nation was important for the creation of the artwork at the Mill Woods Stop. Willard and Morin hosted a public event for members of the community and the Papaschase band to come together. In addition to sharing the concept for the stop art and gathering feedback, this event was also about community building. Guests shared songs and food prepared by local Indigenous-owned companies.

The event had a lasting impact on If the Drumming Stops. After the event, Willard and Morin invited a third artist with family roots in the Papaschase First Nation, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, to join the project. L’Hirondelle is a multimedia artist, performer and musician. At the event she shared a song called Waniska”, or Wake Up”. The Cree syllabics of this song are featured on the final art glass at the Mill Woods Stop.

The Waniska song written in syllabics on the glass.

In English, the lyrics are:

Arise, daylight is upon us
the birds are already singing
our land is coming into beauty

The song was sung at the beginning of each day by a osākawēw (camp crier), as for the nēhiyawak (Cree people), the sky is a sacred being. Today, it is still sung at special events and ceremonies across this land. The first rays of light each morning creates an awakening – that first conscious breath of awareness heralding the continuation for the possibility of life, and the work needed to be done for survival,” Edmund Bull.

To listen to the song, please click here.

Each element of the piece was carefully selected, inspired by the histories of Indigenous peoples who lived in the area. For example, the red coloured glass with the Waniska song syllabics on it is symbolic of the red colour of the woodpecker that Chief Pâhpâscês’ name comes from. 

If the Drumming Stops visually connects the land and the people who lived in the area before it was called Mill Woods. The artists hoped to inspire Edmontonians to learn more about Indigenous peoples and their history in the area.

If the Drumming Stops is located at the Mill Woods Stop on 23 Avenue near Mill Woods Town Centre. Share your public art photos with us on social media using the hashtag #YEGPublicArt.

You can hear more from the artists about the artwork in this beautiful video by Conor McNally.