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GCVI student brings attention to food insecurity through award-winning artistic creation

Maeve Brennagh-Mackie received $1,000 prize for This Square is a Circle

It started with a simple cardboard box, humble and ordinary.

On the inside of the box, is an intricately crafted piece of art, created to inspire.

It is ‘kindness’ that inspired Maeve Brennagh-Mackie from Guelph to create her interactive sculpture, known as "This Square is a Circle."

Brennagh-Mackie recently won a province-wide Student Achievement Award for her creation, with the theme, “kindness is a renewable resource”.

For Brennagh-Mackie, kindness is sharing food.

“Kindness was my inspiration, but it was also the idea of food and giving back. Food, too, is a renewable resource,” Brennagh-Mackie said.

The Student Achievement Awards is a writing and creative arts competition open to all public secondary school students in Ontario.

Sponsored by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, the competition encourages intellectual development of students with an interest in society.

“I found out about the competition through guidance counsellors at school. I was looking at doing something creative, something with a goal and a deadline,” Brennag-Mackie explained.

The artistic journey began in October for the Grade 12 student at GCVI who won the competition in the Visual Senior 11-12 category.

“I’m not much a visual artist. I love to write, and I enjoy poetry, but I knew that I wanted to do something visual with this,” Brennagh-Mackie said.

Bringing kindness and food together helped create This Square is a Circle.

“The idea and my inspiration came from my co-op experience at the SEED. I’ve been able to take part in different activities there from packing deliveries during the pandemic, harvesting food and preparing frozen meals,” Brennagh-Mackie said.

The SEED is a do-it-together food movement in Guelph, working to eradicate food insecurity where everyone has access to healthy food.

The non-profit food project continues to deliver food programs increasing access to healthy food for those in need in response to the pandemic. 

“I knew that I wanted a sustainable theme, so I didn’t buy anything. I wanted to shed light on reusing. I know how to take what’s in my surroundings, to be resourceful and to put meaning into things,” Brennagh-Mackie said.

“I wanted this to be interactive. It’s a plain box which is from the SEED warehouse. This was intentional. But as you unfold the box, each section represents a step in the food delivery process.”

Brennagh-Mackie created a circle of kindness using onion peels, homemade rice paper, stitched onto cotton inside of the box.

“I also used photography and embroidery, things that mean something to me,” she said. “And the onion skins, I saw these as beautiful, as tedious as they may have been to include.”

This Square is a Circle takes the viewer on a journey of sharing food, from growing vegetables, preparing meals for those in need during the pandemic, and boxing and delivering meals.

“I was really surprised to find out that I had won. I think one of the best things was to tell the SEED how empowered I was by this. I did put a lot of effort into it. But I was so happy to have created it, to be able to raise awareness and receive this praise, it has really meant a lot,” Brennagh-Mackie said.

“And I have received really empowering feedback about this piece. People see this as a growing style, and this makes me confident. I can now see myself as an artist.”

Brennagh-Mackie is one of nine provincial winners who were awarded $1,000 each in prizes.

“I received the award at the end of March, but the award ceremony wasn’t until a week ago,” Brennagh-Mackie said.

“I think an opportunity like this is so great for youth to be able to create. Everyone had such an interesting take on this theme.”

The theme of kindness has inspired Brennagh-Mackie to continue her volunteer work in the community.

“It’s definitely been a challenging year, but at the end of Grade 12, I feel lucky. I’ve got most of my credits and I did my co-op. And now, I can focus on my volunteering at The Seed and with the Guelph Wellington Seniors Association, which is also food related,” Brennagh-Mackie said.

“I know for many of my classmates, it’s been a difficult time with staying focused and with learning online. But a lot of good projects have surfaced during this time in trying to keep everyone connected.”

Brennagh-Mackie began a podcast with a friend, "What We'll Bring Alng the Way," to also help keep connections strong during the pandemic.

“We talk about everything from being vegan, to starting a business and what people have been doing during the pandemic,” she said.

Brennagh-Mackie will be taking a gap year after graduation and has accepted an offer at the University of Ottawa where she will study sociology and communications.

“It was my last year and I was really hoping to be recognized for something, and here it came,” Brennagh-Mackie said. “I encourage others to look for these opportunities, whether it’s scholarship, volunteer or co-op. These can all lead to more opportunities for youth to be recognized.”

Kindness is contagious.

“This project was a tribute to the SEED and all that I have learned,” Brennagh-Mackie said.

“And for me, it was also time of self reflection and self-discovery and, of giving back.”

For more information about the Student Achievement Awards, visit www.osstf.on.ca/studentachievementawards.