Sea Walls and paint brushes: Artists from around the world paint Churchill's relationship with nature

More than a dozen artists from around the world are trying to change the face of Churchill, Man.

Sea Walls Festival bringing more than a dozen artists to northern Manitoba community to paint murals

Arlin Graff, from Brazil, transforms a building with a very geometric take on Churchill's famous polar bears. (Reid Valmestad/Submitted)

Eighteen artists from around the world are trying to change the face of Churchill, Man.

Artists from Canada, the United States, Brazil and New Zealand are creating large-scale public murals in the community as part of the Sea Walls Festival, a public art program that promotes ocean conservation globally. Winnipeg artist Kal Barteski curated the artistic installations.

"I just think it's really amazing to be mindful of communities like this," said New Zealand artist Elliot O'Donnell, who makes art under the name Askew One.

"We live in a world that is increasingly refocused around city life, and we forget sometimes about the people who live in these really remote places and just kind of how delicate the situation is."

Winnipeg artist Charlie Johnston returned to Churchill for the second time with this Northern Lights-inspired piece. He will begin work on a pair of beluga whales throughout the week. (Reid Valmestad/Submitted)

O'Donnell travelled to the northern Manitoba town from his home country. He said at home, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the importance of protecting the environment and dangers facing it are clear.

"It's the ocean that connects us so our relationship with the ocean is very important, and it's also a very precarious sort of relationship," he said.

"A lot of the small low-lying countries in the South Pacific are really at the front line of climate change."

Elliot O'Donnell, who goes by the name Askew One, came to Churchill from New Zealand. His art will explore the delicate relationships between humans and nature. (Jason Syvixay/edited by Reid Valmestad)

But landing in Churchill, he saw that environmental impacts were clear there, too. The community was blasted by multiple blizzards over the winter, which contributed to spring flooding that washed away the rail tracks into the community.

Churchill became a fly-in community, raising costs for the population already struggling following the port's closure last year.

"Churchill is a really fascinating place. Like, it's really different to a lot of places I've been, although the underlying story is kind of the same in a lot of places. These are places that are dependent on a small number of industries, that are dependent on the environment," O'Donnell said.

That delicate relationship is something a lot of the artists are exploring in their murals, he added.

Mandy VanLeeuwen flew in from Garson, Man., to add this piece of artwork, which speaks to walking together. VanLeeuwen said the beauty of the artwork is in its loose interpretation: people can decide for themselves if people are walking forwards or backwards. (Reid Valmestad/Submitted)

"That's the underlying tension in this town. It's the drama under all the stories. It's really about this kind of symbiotic relationship between man and nature here," he said.

But O'Donnell said he also wants the art to bring hope and happiness — which, he said, the community of about 800 people is embracing.

"Obviously, everybody is aware of what's going on and people pitch in," he said. "It's all hands on deck and that's the beauty of going into a smaller community."

 The Sea Walls festival runs until June 26.

Artist Takashi Iwasaki in the beginning stages of his piece on the Lake Pumphouse for the Sea Walls festival. He says the piece was inspired by the lake and the pump house's role in providing water to the area.

with files from CBC Manitoba's Radio Noon