Changing the world through art

By  Nisheeta Menon, Youth Speak News
  • November 23, 2007

VivianaAustudillo_Clavijo.jpgTORONTO - Within the last few months 17-year-old student Viviana Astudillo-Clavijo of Loretto College School in Toronto has dined with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and mingled with Governor General Michaelle Jean. Her passion for art and her efforts to help the community won Astudillo-Clavijo the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case (Youth Award) on Oct. 17.

The awards were instituted in 1979, on the 50th anniversary of the Privy Council’s decision to recognize women as “persons.” They commemorate the tradition of courage, integrity and hard work which the Famous Five of the Persons Case inspired. Astudillo-Clavijo was rewarded for her involvement with the Empowered Student Partnership program, her efforts to clean up graffiti with the Toronto Police and her gift for artistic expression.

Astudillo-Clavijo began exploring her passion for art at an early age, drawing sketches on napkins and whatever else she could find. She claims her passion for art is driven by the thrill of creating something out of nothing and being able to say “Wow, I did that!” She enjoys art because “it expresses the feeling of the artist, even with the colours they choose.”

{sidebar id=1} Adding expression to a person’s eyes is what Astudillo-Clavijo enjoys most about painting. She fondly recalls painting an image of a child living in poverty for a youth conference in which young people of different religions were brought together to learn about issues affecting the world. She deliberately chose to depict the child smiling, to represent hope.

Astudillo-Clavijo began using her art to make a difference when she volunteered, through a local police initiative, to paint a mural on a wall that had been vandalized. Through her high school she became involved with the Empowered Student Partnership program which led her to use her artwork to promote the club’s initiatives.

The ESP is a safe schools initiative organized by the Toronto Police Service’s 32 Division. Recently, the program has focused on female bullying and violence, including cyber bullying. The club offers support and guidance to the more than 600 students of Loretto College School, but also reaches out to local elementary schools with events like an inner city peace walk.

“The club gives young women a chance to express themselves in a big sister environment, and is especially important for the younger grades who fear entering the world of high school,” said Astudillo-Clavijo.

The issue of female bullying is important to the group because of how it differs from bullying between males.

“Often, female bullying involves emotional violence which can be harder to deal with,” said Astudillo-Clavijo.

For Astudillo-Clavijo, her Catholic faith influences her art in many ways.

“It’s just the way I’ve been brought up. I am Catholic, I go to church, I’ve been taught to help people. My work deals with morality which also transcends religious boundaries and touches people of all faiths.”

Astudillo-Clavijo’s vision for the future involves “seeing poverty beyond homelessness.” She recalls witnessing dire poverty first-hand during family trips to Ecuador.

“Some people are really smart, and if they’re given the opportunity, they could be very successful. I’d like to see them receive these opportunities,” she said.

She notes that many people close their eyes to the truth, but she would love to see young people not waiting until they’re older to make a change in the world. Astudillo-Clavijo’s own support is her family, friends and the teaching staff at Loretto College.

“Support from everyone takes you far. It took me far,” she said.

In the future, Astudillo-Clavijo plans to continue expressing herself through airbrushing, sketching, sculpting and painting. As of now, her focus is on keeping her grades high to get into university. She hopes to study fine art as well as biology, and hopes to be a doctor some day.

(Menon, 21, studies Christianity and Culture at the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto.)

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