One hundred fifty-two copper birds fly over a painted forest on the surface of this massive (63-by-27-foot) gateway mural connecting Beaver Hills House Park to Michael Phair Park in downtown Edmonton, Alberta. The Cree words Amiskwacîw Wâskâyhkan Ihtâwin soar over their English translation: Beaver Hills House Park.
Watching a massive, swooping flock of Bohemian waxwings during a road trip to Beaver Hills prompted artist Destiny Swiderski to include birds in the design. (The forest was painted by Edmonton aerosol artist AJA Louden.) According to Swiderski, who is Métis, her “awareness of Edmonton’s historic role as a gathering place for indigenous peoples” was fundamental to the project as well.
A close look at the birds reveals that they’re depicted in ten different postures of flight—and each one bears a message. At the beginning of the project, Swiderski met with indigenous focus groups and elders, then organized workshops in which participants were invited to share their individual stories by drawing inside one of her ten bird-silhouette templates. “All I said to the participants was, ‘Tell me your story,’” says Swiderski, who saw her role as that of a facilitator. “This is what public art should be,” she says, “a place where people can come together and say something important and meaningful about their experience.