Beautifying the Neighbourhood Unity Centre in Sudbury with LiveLoveLouder

Written by: Rebecca Hamilton-Bachiu & Chandyn Bachiu

The team in the Sudbury-Manitoulin Cluster entered the summer of 2020 with audacious goals to advance the community building process and were curious about the possibility of collaborating with likeminded organizations. The Universal House of Justice describes how “initiatives of this kind emerge organically out of the junior youth spiritual empowerment programme or are prompted by consultations about local conditions that occur at community gatherings.”[1] 

Two strong collaborations emerged that summer: one with Sudbury Shared Harvest, a nonprofit community garden initiative; and, the other with LiveLoveLouder, a non-profit community-based arts initiative.  Our collaboration with both organizations continued throughout the pandemic; however, the one with LiveLoveLouder (LLL) grew into something particularly special. 

When we started a new junior youth group in the neighbourhood of Louis Street in September of 2020, we noticed that many of the walls and fences were painted in vibrant, uplifting colours, and that there was a feeling of care for the physical environment. Through conversations in the neighbourhood, we eventually met a much-loved community member, Elizabeth Davis, known as June. June has raised her children in the Louis Street neighbourhood and eventually began a neighbourhood association which provided children’s programming to meet the needs of her community. After several conversations about community-building and the need for spiritual education for children, we realized we had met a like-minded protagonist from whom we had much to learn.  June, who was struggling to find a space to continue serving the children of Louis Street during the pandemic, was invited to the new “Neighbourhood Unity Centre” to explore possibilities for collaboration. We also learned that LLL, which June was also involved with, was responsible for the beautification of the neighbourhood and that their work focuses on providing inclusive learning opportunities, beautification, and cooperative artwork initiatives in marginalized communities in Sudbury. 

Soon after, June, as well as other artists and facilitators with LLL attended our Friday youth night at the Centre. The youth, who are all trained animators, did an impromptu presentation for the guests, describing concepts such as the two-fold moral purpose, the idea that as we contribute to the transformation of society, we also grow spiritually and intellectually. The guests were deeply touched by the youth’s passion for serving their community and their ability to articulate how these two aspects go hand-in-hand.

After the youth night, LLL offered to join hands with the youth animators to paint the walls of the Neighbourhood Unity Centre, which were a drab institutional beige. The youth were thrilled with the idea and so began an eight-month collaboration based on a mutual love of community building and creativity.  

The process of designing images for the walls was done in the true spirit of consultation. First, Wallace, Laura-Leigh and Raven Debassige, the artists from LLL, asked what atmosphere the youth wanted to convey and they described creating an environment that was colourful, welcoming, and joyful. Coming up with specific designs was much harder. The youth would get together and try to get sketches, shapes, words, or anything down on paper. Though the progress was slow, it was fun to bounce ideas off of one another and make efforts to translate aspects of the junior youth program into visuals. Eventually, two main ideas crystallized. The first was the concept for the big classroom, designed by a 16-year-old animator new to the Institute process. He made cute sketches that essentialized the main theme from each book the junior youth study in the program which creates a visual journey throughout the space.

As you enter the main classroom, there are clouds that symbolize the text, Breezes of Confirmation. Further images continue throughout the space, finishing with a large yellow sun depicting one of the themes from the text, Drawing on the Power of the Word. Wallace and team encouraged us to leave the images somewhat open to interpretation, so that the animators could draw on these visuals as they help the junior youth express their understanding of the concepts. Another theme suggested by another animator, which ultimately served as a strong unifying element, was the idea of the path of service.  

Shortly after these ideas were agreed upon, we entered another lockdown and had to move our consultations online. It was more difficult to brainstorm and make decisions this way, but over four months, designs for each wall were finalized along with a colour scheme. Finally, with all the decisions made by mid-June, we just had to wait for restrictions to lift to start painting.

We began painting as soon as we could meet safely in person in mid-July. While we started with a small team, we were eventually able to involve a whole junior youth group as well as the cohort of animators in the painting process, with LLL artists assisting us throughout. After two weeks of collective painting, LLL finished off the murals and concluded the project, leaving not only a brilliant swirl of art in their wake, but a feeling of love–the same feeling we had felt over a year ago, when we had first noticed the beauty they’d brought to the Louis Street neighbourhood.

After months of lockdown, the Louis Street junior youth group were met with a big surprise when they finally re-entered the centre this summer.  They moved from room to room expressing awe and excitement, jumping up and down with such joy on their faces.  When asked what he thought, one junior youth responded with a score of “34 out of 10”.  

The Universal House of Justice describes how “all such initiatives also serve to enrich participation, at an individual and collective level, in prevalent discourses of the wider community.”[2]  We have seen how this beautification initiative has sparked many conversations about the junior youth program in particular and community-building in general, including encouragement from the local Councillor. 

As we plan a grand opening of the Neighbourhood Unity Centre, showcasing its new adornment, the conversations will continue.  We could never have foreseen how meaningful and rich this process would turn out to be, informed by the growing friendship with LLL, our fellow protagonists in community-building here in Sudbury!

[1] Universal House of Justice, 29 December, 2015

[2] Universal House of Justice, 29 December, 2015

One of many beautiful wall murals adorning the inside of the Neighbourhood Centre in Sudbury

Get in touch with the neighbourhood team in this story, or share your own learning with Ontario Baha’i here.

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