“How One Special Community, Participatory Arts Project has helped to Unite and Inspire Communities in East Toronto and Beyond”
As a Community Arts Organization, we truly believe in the magic of Community Arts. We believe that when we create together, we make our communities more vibrant and inspiring places for all of us to live. It’s no secret that the arts have a long history of bringing people together across boundaries, and this past year in a pandemic we’ve been particularly moved by participatory community-based art projects that have allowed people from all across east Toronto to help shape the narratives of the neighbourhoods they call home.
This month we decided to chat with the creator behind the world’s largest rock snake, started right down on Kew Beach in east Toronto: Lucas Walker and his mom, Sema! In a time of increasing social and political division, can participatory arts projects such as these continue to provide an important outlet for reconnecting and inspiring communities? We definitely think so, and hope you agree in the magic of making art together too.
- Question from East End Arts: So what inspired the creation of the rock snake? Where did the idea come from?
Answer from Sema & Lucas: It actually wasn’t much of a planned decision, it was something that just kind of happened. One day we went down to the beach with some paint and brushes and painted a few rocks. On our way back towards the boardwalk we thought, ‘Oh, so what should we do with these painted rocks?’ And then we thought, ‘Why don’t we just put them here so people can see them or admire them?’ and Lucas put them down in a row. Then the next time we were down at the beach, there were more rocks. And then we just thought, ‘Hey, I guess there’s something here people are adding to it’. And we got all excited about it. There’s actually a video on his Insta capturing his first reaction to when we went to see the rocks added to it for the first time. So we eventually went back to put up a sign that said, “I’m just a rock snake here to make you smile”, and then from there it just really blew up!
East End Arts: That is so neat that people really got into the idea and started to add to it and now it’s about to officially be the world’s largest rock snake. We’re blown away!
Sema & Lucas: Yeah, we’re kind of really blown away by it as well. And at this point, it’s literally become the community’s art project. Lucas started it, but that’s all he did really, and then we kept encouraging people by posting on his Insta, you know, to show what people were adding… we even started the hashtag #smilesformiles. But yeah, it’s just been really awesome how everyone joined in on this.
- Question from East End Arts: So what was the goal of the rock snake? And if there wasn’t one, what do you think it ended up becoming for the community in the end?
Sema & Lucas: You know what, it didn’t really start with a concrete goal other than what the first sign said, ‘I’m just a rock here to make you smile’. Art makes people smile, right? Art makes people happy, so that was kind of the intention behind it. But, then when it became really, really big, it turned into this challenge to beat the unofficial world record of a rock snake in England, which we didn’t even know existed. So that became a goal for us to shoot for, along with the community support. It literally took no time to reach 8,000 [Sema laughs]. I think it was two weekends, like everyone just banded together, just through a call on social media. And now we’re almost at 10,000! And we applied for the Guinness World Record, again with the community’s support and encouragement. So, it really is the community’s project.
East End Arts: Wow. So we assume that you’ll have a big celebration once you find out about the World Record?
Sema & Lucas: Absolutely, absolutely. We’re gonna make it a huge bang with the community for sure.
- Question from East End Arts: Do you see a role for community, participatory-arts projects like these to help unite and inspire people into the future?
Sema & Lucas: Absolutely. I do think this project united and inspired people in a special way. And it actually has extended beyond the immediate community as well. People from outside of Toronto and from the GTA have been making trips down to come see the rock snake and contribute to it. We’ve even had people reach out from Jamaica, from Nova Scotia, from New York, because they’ve heard about it through their friends in Toronto, and want to mail us a rock to add. And we’re like, ‘Okay, why don’t we just start a rock snake where you are instead?’ [Sema laughs]. And actually there have been a few that have started up. There’s one in Lindsay that started up, one in Bowmanville, and Hamilton I believe. And there’s one in Nova Scotia by this organization called Brigadoon Village, which is a really lovely organization that helps kids with terminal illnesses to lift their spirits. So yeah, projects like these really do bring people together. Art has a way of making people happy. But this has moved beyond that. It’s brought so many different people together to contribute to a project and create art together.
- Question from East End Arts: What would you say community members should take away from this project? What else can we all be doing to help unite and inspire our neighbourhoods, especially in a post-pandemic world?
Sema & Lucas: The core and the spirit of what this rock snake really brought forward is that people want to connect with each other, and people want to be a part of something together. Especially during a time where we were forced to be isolated, we all still wanted to contribute to something together. So really, I’d say we should carry that forward, and really incorporate it into your daily lives, you know? Really connect with each other and be kind to each other. I would love to see people re-emerge from this pandemic, and when everything opens up, by reaching out to people… reach out to your neighbor that you don’t talk to and just say hi, introduce yourself and connect with each other.
- Question from East End Arts: Which rock in the rock snake is Lucas’s favourite and why?
Sema & Lucas: Lucas has a fascination with all the food rocks [giggles]. He’s seven years old, so he has a fascination with the pizza rocks, and the M&M rocks and anything that is food-related catches his eye a lot. Also anything with sunshine, [everyone laughs]. So yeah, pizza and sunshine, down at the beach? The perfect mix for a good day.
Have you checked out the Rock Snake down at Kew Beach? Have you added your own rock to the snake? Be sure to use their hashtag, #SmilesForMiles, #RockSnakeBeaches and let’s keep this snake growing all summer long! #EASTENDLOVE