Power to the People
Profile by Jane Ledwell
Visual artist and educator B.J. McCarville has been home on PEI less than a year since living “away” and studying studio arts and education, and the comment she hears most is, “I didn’t know you were into art.” Now her mission as an arts educator at Confederation Centre Art Gallery is to engage people with art in life-altering ways—whether they know what they are getting into or not.
“Not coming from an art background, or a family with an art background, I want to be part of a cultural shift,” B.J. says, passionately animated about her not-so-hidden agenda: “My goal is to nudge at the value system around visual arts on PEI.
“In my job, I feel I have total license to come up with projects and get people to come,” she says. “I’m up for everything. Every community event that is happening, I want to put art in there. It’s proven: art is one of the key ingredients of good quality of life for a community,” B.J. says with enthusiasm.
When we met, B.J. was working on her project for August’s Art in the Open event in Charlottetown, a sound sculpture featuring storytelling bicycles. Riders’ cycling will power the circuits to play the recorded story. “It’s a minute introduction of electronics into my art—electronic art blows my mind. The stories will be on cassette players—everything is used, found, and recycled as much as possible, to make it sustainable. But I think real sustainability is community.” B.J. says, “I love storytelling and how you can use that in art. If there’s hope for the world, it’s in intergenerational connection and community connection.”
This fall, B.J. also will have the opportunity to fill a sabbatical in art education at UPEI and can’t wait to “teach teachers to teach art,” as she puts it. “I feel in PEI, I didn’t have a lot of education in art,” B.J. says with regret—an evening painting class she took as an adult in Montreal got her hooked. “We have a beautiful music education system, but in the visual arts it is up to teacher by teacher what art education children get. That in itself creates a lack of knowledge,” she says. “Art is probably one of the best subjects there is to teach problem solving and critical thinking.”
She admits it can be hard for adults to begin art-making again. “I’m a ‘can’t chucker,’” she laughs, with a broad gesture, “the first rule is there is no can’t…
“If you stopped doing math when you were eleven, you wouldn’t do really well with it,” she says. “There’s a myth that some people are ‘good’ at art. Well, no—there are some people who love it and work hard at it.” She adds, secretively, “Artists might not tell you this, but there are techniques you can use, and you can learn art.”
As a late bloomer who bloomed away from home, B.J. is new to the art community on PEI. Taking part in group and community shows has been important to her this past year. “I want more independent practice, too,” she says—but B.J. first is pursuing bigger goals. “I have my whole life to make paintings,” she says.
“Art accessibility is way more important to me than even making art. I love making art—but I want everyone to love it,” says B.J. “In some ways it’s a religion for me. If I am going to devote all my time to one thing, I want it to be to the essential human experience, seeking what connects us all.”
B.J. says, “Not everyone goes to the Olympics, but everybody needs to exercise to be healthy. We all need creative expression in our lives… In everything I do, I want to empower people to create and to beautify.”
She muses, “It took me longer to find my way to art, but I don’t know if maybe that makes me appreciate it more.” Now, B.J. McCarville is in a hurry to help people find their way faster—in the gallery, in the classroom, or on the bike.