Youth mural project facilitator Yvonne Vander Kooi (middle) and two of her teenage artists work on a mural in memory of Makayla Chang at the Harewood Activity Centre earlier this month. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

Vancouver Island youths creating mural in memory of murdered teen Makayla Chang

Mural to be unveiled at Nanaimo’s Harewood Centennial Park on March 17

This March, Makayla Chang would have turned 18 years old. It will also mark two years since the Nanaimo teen was last seen alive.

On March 17, the friends she left behind and the friends she never meet will make sure she has a permanent presence in her neighbourhood when they unveil a memorial mural at Harewood Centennial Park.

One of the driving forces behind the mural project is Ajay MacLeod, coordinator of Generation Q, a drop-in support group for LGBTQ teens in Nanaimo that Chang attended. MacLeod said Chang was “super friendly” and well-known in Harewood and that her unsolved murder hit the community hard.

“A lot of the youths I spoke to just felt like they hadn’t had closure, like everyone had just kind of moved on, that there was really no outcome to know what happened and it just kind of felt like it was swept under the rug,” MacLeod said.

GenQ members brainstormed about what they could do to acknowledge Chang, and arrived at the idea of a mural that would commemorate her while also honouring and giving voice to other marginalized youths in the community who have struggled, died or gone missing.

MacLeod then approached Deborah Hollins, executive director of the Nanaimo Family Life Association, another organization Chang was involved in, who managed to secure funding from the city and brought in local mural artist Yvonne Vander Kooi to help facilitate the project.

Vander Kooi held workshops with young people from groups like GenQ, Support Among Youth and Tsawalk and invited them to participate in the project.

“I garnered some information and material from youths from these workshops and we’re kind of implementing those ideas and those images into the mural to create a narrative,” Vander Kooi explained. “A bit of a fantastical narrative, but one that I think has some very specific connections to Makayla as well.”

Zoe Hay learned about the project when Vander Kooi visited the SAY drop-in centre she attends. The 14-year-old said she’s used to painting on smaller canvases and has never worked on a mural before. Vander Kooi said Hay is one of the project’s most dedicated participants.

“I may not have known [Chang], I’ve never been friends with her, but I’ve heard friends who were friends with Makayla and I heard the stories that she’s had with them and I feel very proud of what I’m doing now,” Hay said.

The 5-by-12-foot mural features brightly coloured, overlapping imagery drawn from nature intertwined with a topographical layout of Harewood and references to neighbourhood landmarks, including the tree Chang used to climb at Fifth Street and Bruce Avenue. Vander Kooi said bird symbolism is meant to evoke the legend of the phoenix and MacLeod noted that the inclusion of a deer alludes to a costume Chang once wore to a GenQ Halloween party.

“I think we often forget how powerful and imaginative and intelligent our youths are and so this is an opportunity for them to really showcase that about themselves,” Vander Kooi said. “And I think it’s a kind of actual, visual, physical reminder of that kind of untapped potential.”

RELATED: Community coming to grips with loss in Makayla Chang case

MacLeod said the process was cathartic for the participants to meet, talk and share their feelings and visions, and added that the mural should act as a reminder that vulnerable youths need protection.

“I just hope it’s a physical monument that people can always see and remember, that youths can feel like their voices were heard and that they were able to create this living memorial,” MacLeod said. “But also … for us a community to be accountable and not forget her and see how we can help move forward with this and help some other youths so that this tragedy isn’t repeated.”

WHAT’S ON … Makayla Chang memorial mural unveiling at Harewood Centennial Park on March 17 from 1 to 2 p.m. RSVP by March 13 to reception@nflabc.org.



arts@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Nanaimo Ladysmith education support workers reach tentative three-year deal

Union membership to vote on collective agreement on July 31

Island pickleball players perfectly prepared

Top-notch action at Fuller Lake Park in singles, doubles and mixed doubles

Dormant Chemainus Foods building soon to be revived

Market expected to bring new life to the downtown core

Ladysmith Arts Council leads effort to establish Vancouver Island as an arts powerhouse

Terry O’Reilly will be the keynote speaker during an interactive live webcast on August 8 at 6pm

Oyster Bay Microtel solidifies reputation as a Vancouver Island destination

The Microtel is focused on continuing to build their reputation over the summer

VIDEO: B.C. MLA Michelle Stilwell takes first steps in nearly 30 years

‘It actually felt like walking. It’s been 27 years… but it felt realistic to me’

Report of dead body in B.C. park actually headless sex doll

This discovery, made at Manning Park on July 10, led police to uncovering two other sex mannequins

Grand Forks fire chief found to have bullied, harassed volunteer firefighter: report

WorkSafeBC, third-party human resources investigation looking into allegations complete

Dog recovering after being drenched in hot coffee, B.C. man charged

Man was taken into custody, charged, and released pending a court date

Taekwondo instructor, 21, identified as B.C. bat rabies victim

Nick Major, 21, an instructor at Cascadia Martial Arts in Parksville

Science expedition to Canada’s largest underwater volcano departs Vancouver Island

Crews prepared for a two-week research mission to the Explorer Seamount

B.C. shipyard to get one-third of $1.5 billion frigate-repair contract

The federal government has promised to invest $7.5 billion to maintain the 12 frigates

15-year-old with imitation gun caused ‘dynamic’ scene at Nanaimo mall

No one was harmed in Monday’s incident, say Nanaimo RCMP

Worried about bats? Here’s what to do if you come across one in B.C.

Bat expert with the BC Community Bat Program urges caution around the small creatures

Most Read