In the words of local artist Michelle Schwengler…
Arts & culture thrive in the Leduc Region, and we’re always proud to showcase how vibrant our arts community is. Be it through painting, performing, singing, or making, the arts are a vessel through which we express our creativity, and tell the stories of our community. BUT – the best people to tell these stories are local artists themselves! That’s why we’ve handed the microphone (or keyboard) over to one of the Leduc Region’s own. Meet Michelle Schwengler – local artist, creator, volunteer AND guest blogger!
Keep reading to learn a bit more about Michelle and what community art means to her – in her own words…
Where It All Started…
Sitting at my grandparents’ kitchen table, I can feel the anxiety rising up inside of me. The intensity of voices rise beyond the threshold of sound, and blur together into one giant mass of thunder. My head is pounding. I am only seven years old – “anxiety” and “depression” are not yet diagnosed, or even discussed, in the medical world. Sweat is beading on my head, and my fists clench into tiny, tense balls under my chair. My vision begins to blurs. Suddenly, my grandmother places paper and colored pencils in front of me. “I thought you might like to draw” she says with a kind tone in her voice. I am pulled back into reality as my hands grasp onto the familiar and calming paper. I breathe in the sweet scent of pencils. Art has saved me again.
My grandmother passed her artistic genes onto my father, who in turn passed them onto myself, my sister, and all of my grandmother’s descendants. Growing up, art was my solace – it was my source of my confidence, and my friend. Before mental health was even a topic for discussion in the world, I was using art to help me get through what I thought were just “bad years.” Now, I’m trying to share the gift of art with my community. Through my murals, involvement in community art organizations, and passion for artwork based on mental health, I try to inspire joy during difficult times.
Memories, Murals, and More
It all started years ago on Main Street Leduc. My husbands’ family owns a building in Block50 with HUGE windows. The building had been recently vacated, and we wanted to do something with the space to bring joy to the shoppers on Main Street. I decided to try my hand at murals. We landed on a huge set of rainbow wings – the idea was that it could be an interactive mural for people to pose in front of. I remember feeling so nervous that people wouldn’t notice, that they would simply walk by the mural, and that all of my hard work would just blend into the background on Main Street. It only took a couple days for me to learn this was not the case. As I was walking down the street one afternoon, I noticed a family posing in front of the wings – they were taking pictures and laughing! I caught the bug after that… Seeing the smiles and joy brought to just one family made my heart full. I knew there was going to be many more community murals in my future.
Since that day, I have filled the entire building with murals. They change monthly, aligning with seasons, holidays, and community events – all with the larger goal of inspiring joy. As the word began to spread, so did my murals. They began to show up on the windows of other businesses, and in other communities. My heart soared as I found people who were just as passionate about community art as I am. Art has the power to inspire, to convey a message that cannot be put in words, and to bring about a feeling of connection to one’s community.
I am so proud the power of art is not taken for granted in the Leduc Region. Art & culture unites people from different communities, and from different walks of life. It’s not difficult to find inspiration when you live in such a loving and caring community.
The Leduc Arts Foundry
Murals may be where my journey with community art started, but that’s not where it ends. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a presentation from members of the Leduc Arts Foundry. They spoke of a dream of having a space of their own in Leduc – a space to host art classes, a space for creative souls to gather, a space anyone and everyone could access. I signed up that very day – I knew I had to be a part of this.
Fast forward to last year, and everyone at the Arts Foundry was blessed with opening up our own space in the Leduc Recreation Centre! Unfortunately, this was also around the same time that the pandemic struck, putting nearly everything to a halt. Despite the challenges of today’s world, we have still been working hard behind the scenes. Creating take-home art kits, hosting virtual art classes, teaching about art for mental health and gratitude journaling – we’ve been making the most out of the hand we were dealt, and planning for the future. It is more important than ever to make art accessible to our community, as it truly can improve mental health and be an outlet for difficult feelings during trying times.
So what’s in store for the Leduc Arts Foundry in the near future? We are looking forward to the summer! We’re planning outdoor classes (including an incredibly exciting graffiti workshop) and public art installations. Then, once we reopen… pottery classes, watercolor painting, acrylic painting, kids programs, photography classes, and much more! We’re even planning to host an ongoing, always changing Art Gallery AND various markets throughout the year! When restrictions allow, we’ll be ready to share our love for art with locals & visitors alike.
Mental Health, Creativity, and Community
This past year, I realized the importance of talking about mental health and my own struggles with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Art has helped me express those feelings, and I’m grateful to be part of a community that supports how I deal with them. I want others to know they are not alone. Art can represent endless emotions, and a single brush stroke can bring out a thousand stories. It took me 35 years to decide to put my feelings and struggles onto a canvas to share with the world. As I started to reveal my paintings one at a time, I was blown away by the incredible response from others reaching out to share their personal struggles. Art brought us together, it has the authority to inspire courage and expression. I am building a collection of “Mental Health Paintings” for a gallery display once restrictions lessen, and I hope to put on a public mental health information session at the same time.
Art can help us deal with our feelings and build up our confidence. That’s why I teach painting classes throughout the region, and also lead Gratitude Journaling classes through the Leduc Arts Foundry. Creativity and community can help us get through tough times together.
Looking Forward to the Future…
I have been blessed to have any semblance of artistic talent – it makes me so proud to share my love of art and use my personal journey to inspire joy in others. Sharing my passion for art with my community through murals, artwork, and teaching makes my heart glow.
If you are interested in a mural or art piece, curious about a paint class, or just want to chat, feel free to reach out! You can find me through my website (www.freebirdillustrations.com), email me (email@example.com), or follow me on Instagram (@michelleschwengler). Thank YOU for allowing me to share my personal journey through art with you, and I hope that you too will find joy being creative in your own way.
It was such an exciting challenge and an honour to be asked to write a blog for Discover Leduc Region. I sincerely hope that you consider sharing your own experiences and stories with them as well!
All we can say is WOW – thank you so much for sharing your story Michelle! Do YOU have a great story to tell, or might be interested in writing a guest blog? Don’t hesitate to reach out! Get in touch with us via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or reach out to us through social media (@discoverleduc on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter) – we would love to hear from you!