Utility boxes are at the best of times an eyesore; they are after all meant for utilization rather than an aesthetic appeal. But for Airdrie artist, Veronica Funk, a utility box was a canvas, a canvas that she could dedicate to Indigenous culture, all the while beautifying Airdrie. 

A decade prior, the idea to paint the utility box located at the corner of Main Street and 1st Avenue sprung from the hopes that art could replace vulgar graffiti that had been scrawled there.

"I submitted a proposal and I wanted to incorporate canoes and arrowheads to represent our history, not just Airdrie's history, but the history of the place that Airdrie is. If you go to Nose Creek Museum, they have a huge collection of arrowheads, because Airdrie was along the creek, it was a huge hunting spot for Indigenous, I think predominantly, Blackfoot tribes," Funk said. 

The inspiration for canoes came from her own childhood, but also from the symbolism of what a canoe represents.

"We are all in this boat together and I really wanted to connect that."

And just last week Funk added something new to her creation in order to freshen up her art.

"Last week, I went every day, through different parts of the day and painted. Like the first time, I'd get a thumbs up from people or people calling out from their vehicle windows; or as they were walking, they'd ask about it," she said. "It was just so nice to get that encouragement from the community to beautify this corner again."

16 Swallows were added to the painting, to commemorate residential schools, but also because swallows are seen as symbols of hope and community in Indigenous cultures.

"That's the reason I live in Airdrie and have lived here for 25 years. It's because I love this community and I love the people that live in Airdrie. I just wanted to combine it all together by adding the swallows this time around."

Funk said that it was the City of Airdrie that reached out to her first to ask if she'd consider refreshing her artwork.

"That's always so nice that City Hall is very, very supportive of arts and culture in the community. I'm really grateful for that."

Funk who is originally from Northern Manitoba, said that much of her childhood was spent being immersed in the Indigenous cultures of the area. She said that smudging ceremonies and the deep spiritual meaning behind them have always struck a chord with her.

"[When] we would smudge, putting the smoke over our heads and say, bless my eyes, so I see the best in others, bless my ears, so I hear the best of others, and bless my mouth, so I speak the best of others; I always thought that was just such a positive way to be in the world," she said.

But it's not just the ancient ceremonies that she has found wisdom and inspiration to draw on, it's also her surroundings.

"[The other important thing] was paying attention to animals. My family used to call me crow talker because I would and I still love talking to crows. On one of my birthdays, 52 crows landed in the evergreen tree behind our yard. Crows are messengers but they're also a blessing. Adding those symbols to my work has become very, very important to me over the last 10 years." 

Funk said that one of the first groups of artists that she was exposed to, and one that left a lasting mark were the Woodlands Artists an Indigenous collective of Indigenous artists.

"I loved their colouring and I loved how simple everything was; It would be a single image on the picture plane. When I went to Red Deer College in the 80s, I learned about, Lawren Harris from the Group of Seven and Georgia O'Keeffe, and how they would have a really prominent image in vibrant colour," Funk said. 

While Funk has been a professional artist for over two decades, she offered advice to young artists who are just budding in their aspirations and careers.

"I'm always telling these artists you need to make sure that you do what you love to do, with the materials you love to do them with and to share it with others," she said. "You just got to keep going. It's like any job, you have to keep working at it."

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