Richmond School, a small but vibrant elementary school in Southwest Calgary, has become the latest canvas of award-winning artist, Elena Bushan. An immigrant from Moldova, Bushan conferred with 200-some students before creating the three huge murals that now adorn the school's outside walls.
Richmond's entire student body assembled in the gymnasium last year to discuss what message the murals should convey about their school. Students insisted that vibrant colours be used. Their passions—reading, sports, music, math, and the sciences—had to be represented. Above all, students wanted the murals to honour the sense of community captured in the school's slogan, “Richmond School has Heart."
Inspired by the students' vision, Bushan set to work on a project that would span a month and empty countless gallons of paint. She first created sketches and perfected them through Photoshop. She then turned large panels of plywood into bold representations of student life. The finished pieces were celebrated on May 29th by students who marveled to see their ideas finally unveiled to the world outside their school walls.
The artist, who received the Canadian Immigrant of Distinction Award for her contribution to Calgary's artistic community in 2017, first saw Richmond School's potential in 2009. As her son Artur, new to Canada, prepared to step through the front doors for the first time, Bushan realized he needed some piece of his mother at school. So she painted what is now fondly known as the school's “heart mural." Although her son has since graduated—and is thriving in a nearby junior high school—Bushan continues to bring art to other children in the community.
“Art was my salvation as a child," she explains. She recalls the recurring nightmares she had as a little girl of bombs falling on her apartment in war-torn Moldova. It was only through painting and sculpture that she found safety—and a voice. By age 10—two years into art school—Bushan knew that her love would also become her vocation. She now works as an artist and teacher out of her studio in Calgary. “Art heals," she says. “I truly believe that it is food for our souls."
Although huge in the eyes of Richmond students, the murals only reveal a glimpse of their creator's large-scale endeavours. In 2013, Bushan worked with William Lazos and a team to paint a BMW mural spanned 12 stories. (She estimates that they've created around 20 huge photorealistic murals in only 8 years!) She also joined world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, and William Lazos and his team to create the National Holocaust Monument, a 0.8-acre exhibit that was inaugurated in Ottawa in September of 2017.
These days, Elena enjoys few things more than sharing her passion for art with children, both in the studio and on school walls. Art, she believes, is essential in a city with long winters and an unpredictable economy. “We can get through any difficulty if our souls are rich," she explains. “You can play hockey all day long, but you still need to feed your soul. Art does just that."