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Habitat for the Arts serves up multiculturalism

As an uprooted Irish woman living in Jasper, Oonagh Neilan said sometimes she feels disconnected from her homeland.

Starting Sept. 19, Habitat for the Arts will start offering monthly multicultural nights. As a trial run earlier this summer, the organization hosted a Ukrainian dance group at the Jasper Royal Canadian Legion. This month Irish heritage and traditions will be highlighted.  K. Byrne photo

Starting Sept. 19, Habitat for the Arts will start offering monthly multicultural nights. As a trial run earlier this summer, the organization hosted a Ukrainian dance group at the Jasper Royal Canadian Legion. This month Irish heritage and traditions will be highlighted. K. Byrne photo

“I’ve been here for two seasons and I miss home sometimes—I miss the energies and the way we think and talk, but there’s also negatives to my life at home too,” Neilan said. “But sometimes I’d love to have access to both my world here and there at the same time.”

Looking for a way to connect with her Irish roots, she wound up at the Jasper Library and Cultural Centre. It was there that Neilan ran into Habitat for the Arts’ Marianne Garrah, who suggested Neilan kick-off the organization’s new multicultural program.

Starting in September, Habitat for the Arts is planning to host monthly themed nights, highlighting the various cultures that live within Jasper.

“Look at what happens here every summer. The world comes to Jasper—people from Germany, Mexico, China—everywhere,” Garrah said. “And it’s not just people passing through. Our community is filled with people who come from all over the place and I think we should be recognizing that.”

Without hesitation, Neilan agreed.

On Sept. 19 at 7 p.m., Neilan will be hosting an Irish affair, accompanied with a traditional dish, dancing and stories.

“There are a lot of myths in Ireland so I want to bring a big book of fables and read a few of those for people,” Neilan said. “I’ll also be sharing some of the Irish language and a few songs—nothing complex, just the basics.”  

Along with the fun, Neilan is also hoping to share a little bit about Ireland’s rich history, discussing the country’s independence, national films and sports.

“I know I’m Irish and I love where I come from, but I also love where I’m heading and I love being a part of Canada now,” Neilan said. “So for me it’s really nice to be able to bring some of those traditions from home to my new home.”

After Neilan’s presentation, Habitat for the Arts is planning to showcase countries like Korea, Switzerland, Scotland and Syria.

“We’re in our new cultural centre so what better way to celebrate than by inviting different cultures here,” said Garrah, adding that she got the idea when pondering activities to do for Canada’s 150th birthday next year.

“There are all kinds of ways to experience the people that live here besides running into them at the post office.”

Also starting later this month, Rola Aldakhil, who recently moved from Syria to Jasper, will be teaching art classes twice a month at Habitat for the Arts.

“We’ve got some language barriers and we’re crossing cultures, but when it comes to art you don’t need to speak a language,” Garrah said. “We’re all about opening the doors and welcoming everyone.

“That’s what multiculturalism is—opening the doors to life.”   

Earlier this summer, the Habitat for the Arts also hosted a Ukrainian lunch at the Jasper Royal Canadian Legion, which was well attended.

For more information regarding Habitat for the Arts’ fall lineup visit its Facebook page: Jasper Community Habitat for the Arts.

Kayla Byrne
reporter@fitzhugh.ca

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