By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
Wesley May (Red Lake Band of Chippewa) is from the Red Lake Indian Reservation. An artist for 20 years, Wesley conducts healing through art workshops, community murals, and live exhibition paintings with youth groups, schools, and communities across the United States. He is the founder and owner of Wesley May Arts, is a former First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership fellow, and 2017-18 Intercultural Leadership Institute fellow.
Wesley had the youth at his workshop think of what love meant to them. Then, with those thoughts present in their minds, each student dipped their hand in paint and put their handprint on a large board emblazoned with a large heart painted in the colors of the four directions - red, black, yellow and white. The end result was dozens of handprints in brilliant colors blanketing the board, with the four directions heart shining through.
“We spread the same message with that four colored heart, with the medicine wheel and feather,” Wesley says. He tries to lead by example, showing his values in action.
For Wesley’s 2018 First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital Fellowship, he is conducting “healing through art” positive message mural workshops. These workshops help empower youth and unleash their potential. The workshops are based on the seven teachings of the Ojibwe: love, trust, honesty, truth, respect, courage, and wisdom.
“As an artist, I have grown through many trials and tribulations and thank the Creator for helping me become a stronger American Indian individual,” Wesley says.
With his fellowship funds, Wesley bought supplies for five mural workshops, ultimately completing fifteen message murals with communities and youth across the country in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New Mexico. At his workshop in Minneapolis, 380 youth worked together to finish their message board in half an hour.
As Wesley continues his journey as a full-time artist, his work in communities is raising awareness for his business, Wesley May Arts. It has solidified Wesley’s place within the communities around him. He is constantly working on projects with youth.
He says to the students, “‘I can tell you to go paint this, or I can show you,’ and we’re walking together. That helps empower them to see it, do it, show me how they do it, rather than me just standing over them. They were actually showing me how they did it, instead of me showing them.”