Elise Cole

Battling racism and discrimination with art

October 8, 2021
Author: Eric Zimmer

VIU Kinesiology student Elise Cole shares her story

What began as a way to combat feelings of isolation and boredom during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has now morphed into a budding side business for Elise Cole.

Elise is a second-year Kinesiology student at VIU and says it was a photo contest offered as part of the university’s 2021 Create Conference that prompted her to pursue her artistic side.

“I’ve always loved artwork and painting,” she says.

Although she has no formal background or training in visual arts, Elise says she came up with an idea for a painting and decided to “wing” it.

“I decided to enter what was officially the photography section, but paintings were allowed as well,” she recalls. “I entered my painting as part of the Anti-Racism Arts Festival and ended up winning a prize.”

Bolstered by this success, Elise decided to start her own anti-racism project, in the form of tote bag and mug designs.

“A lot of people were giving me feedback saying I should make and sell products,” she explains.

Elise then got in contact with a local graphic designer “and we decided to create some mugs and some tote bags and see how it went.”

At first, says Elise, she limited her sales to primarily friends, family and other people that she knew. She expanded her reach by selling her products at a couple summer night markets in Parksville “and I was successful there, too.”

This past summer, Elise continued to sell her products through online shops such as Etsy. She has also partnered with the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society (CVIMS) and will be donating a portion of her proceeds to the organization.

And while many people may have started various personal projects while in lockdown at the height of the pandemic, Elise has no plans to let hers fall to the wayside, even as school is back in session and life begins to return to some semblance of normal.

“I have a lot more products to sell, so my goal is to sell as many as I can," she says. "The idea is not to make profit, rather donate as much as possible to the CVIMS.”

She's also encouraged by what she says has been largely positive public feedback on her work.

“I believe art plays a major role in anti-racism, expresses cultural awareness and creates support to those suffering from this type of disrespect,” she says. “The idea behind this project is to raise awareness of the disheartening racism and discrimination in our world, as well as spreading love and kindness.”

Her painting, she furthers, “displays a variety of cultures, races, sexes and communities and my goal is to show these differences while expressing how we are all technically the same race: human.”

At the end of the day, Elise says, “the whole idea is about spreading love and kindness around.”

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