Aparna Rangnekar is a local artist in the Milton community, active in both private and Arts Centre instruction, and a vital part of the Arts Milton board of directors. Known to most as “Appy,” she has a way of coaxing the artist out in even the shakiest hand, pushing the notion that art is individual, and that the making of it in any form is its own joy.
Jenn: Appy, welcome! I find you fascinating. You’re so quiet in demeanour, with so much passion simmering just underneath. Tell me where this all started!
Appy: I was born and raised in Mumbai and graduated from an art school in Fine Arts, mural painting. We are a family of four, two pretty-much grown kids and a husband who is an artist too, but loves to claim that he has moved to the dark side; advertising and marketing! We moved to the Middle East due to his job soon after our first child was born and spent a large part of our lives there.
While art has been a huge part of my life, I did take a break from it while I was raising my kids and working in the Middle East. We moved to Canada about seven years ago, and this is where I actively started my career in art.
As a child I used be unwell quite often and would stay up at night reading fantasy, fiction books and I would spend most of my time illustrating the stories I had read. I give credit to my Mom who saw the potential in me and encouraged me to pursue Art.
Jenn: You’re on the board of Arts Milton, along with your husband Sanjay. Tell me about how that came about. Do you both have the same reason for being involved, or do you come to it from different angles?
Appy: Our first couple of years in Canada were quite challenging as everything around us was new. New surroundings, new weather, new school system for both my teenagers, not to mention them trying to fit in at that age. It was due to the nature of Sanjay’s job in sales that he came across a town called Milton. I remember very clearly when, after one year of renting in Mississauga, we were looking for a home to grow roots and settle down and Sanjay suggested Milton. He thought we would all like to buy our first home there due to its cultural diversity. We decided to spend a Saturday afternoon in Milton as a family, and fell in love with this town instantly. I am so happy that our very first home ever that we’ve owned is here in Milton!
On the weekend we moved, both Sanjay and I decided to walk to the Milton Centre for the Arts, of course it’s now called the FirstOntario Art Centre Milton, to explore the facility. We ran into Arts Milton board members Auleen Carson (President) and Elizabeth Kmiec (Vice-President), who were hosting and facilitating activities for Culture Days at the art centre. The enthusiasm and passion that both Elizabeth and Auleen had about bringing arts and culture to the community resonated with us and we signed up right then and there for membership! What could be a better way to feel a part of and integrate into the community than being involved in such events that bring people together to share and enjoy arts and culture?
Both Sanjay and I are extremely passionate about art and have always preferred to be involved in the process of either art making and/or bringing it to audiences. We felt this way from the beginning during our university days, and would much rather create and present rather than be in the audience. Both of us were part of a group of students instrumental in starting an art festival in our university which has grown to be quite popular. From the time we became Arts Milton members we expressed our interest in being more involved with any activities that were being organized and soon Auleen invited both of us to be on the board of directors, which gave us more opportunities to be involved with the community. We both bring different skill sets to the board: he brings his commercial, advertising and marketing experience while I come from a visual arts, community engagement background, so I guess its a good balance that we bring to the table.
Jenn: What is your favourite medium to work in?
Appy: I primarily paint with acrylics with a palette knife and various tools to develop my own style, creating bold textures and simplistic forms. While my early works ranged from contemporary abstract to expressionistic experimentations and colourful compositions, my passion is creating large-scale, theme-based murals and community art.
Jenn: You’re a wonderful teacher, too. What are your students most interested in?
Appy: It’s my dream come true! When I realized that the arts centre building was so close to home I would frequently visit it and think how wonderful it would be to work there. I would frequently joke about the studios and the facility being my “Disneyland”. Today I am blessed to be one of the art instructors at the FirstOntario Art Centre Milton.
My students range in age from three to 13 as well as adults, and the one thing I find that they have in common, no matter what age they are, is that they are innately curious. They are always happy to make art, and are not afraid to make a mess and use their imaginations. I try to instill enthusiasm in them about the various aspects of art and set an example by continuing to learn different techniques, mediums, styles and artists. Before I came to Canada I had not heard of the Group of Seven, but once I did I was hooked on their unique style of painting the Canadian landscapes and now often incorporate it in my art lessons.
Jenn: Do you find that Milton is open to the arts in general? Is it just a small part of the community, or do you see people from all different backgrounds becoming involved?
Appy: I think Milton is beginning to open [its mind] to arts in general but still needs to see beyond sports and understand the importance of how art helps develop the minds, bodies and souls of children. Art develops their fine motor skills which helps them with everyday tasks, their cognitive skills to help with retaining memory, plus their critical thinking, decision-making, math skills and much more.
It is gratifying to see more and more people at the Milton Culture Days weekend from all different backgrounds participating becoming involved.
Jenn: Is the arts community growing in Milton?
Appy: The arts community is growing for sure but not as much in comparison to the population growth spurt we’ve had in recent years.
Jenn: What would you like to see happen with arts in this community in the next five years?
Appy: I would like to see more public art which will enable neighbourhoods and communities to be surrounded and immersed in art. Also to see more art created by the community which promotes sense of pride and belonging, and helps with interaction within the community. I would like to see public art administrators, cultural planners and artists come together to build such aesthetic spaces and bring in audiences from other towns and cities.
Jenn: Are you working on a special project right now? Can you tell me a bit about it?
Appy: I’m working on details to facilitate a community art project for Culture Days, hosted by Arts Milton at the FirstOntario Art Centre Milton September 29-October 1, 2017. It will be a relief mural designed to celebrate 150 years of Canada as well as celebrating multiculturalism in our community. The actual design is a surprise, you’ll have to come and see!
Jenn: Quick fire questions! What is your favourite thing about Milton?
Appy: Despite the growth spurt in Milton over the last few years, it has retained its welcoming, friendly character and small town charm.
Jenn: Favourite restaurant and dish?
Appy: Thai House! This is where we had our first meal when we came to explore Milton, and I don’t have one particular favourite but my go-to dishes are Green Curry and Pad Thai.
Jenn: Favourite place in Milton?
Appy: Mill Pond! Sanjay and I love walking down Main Street and always finish our walk by sitting on a bench by the Mill Pond enjoying the view.
Jenn: Favourite colour?
Jenn: Who else do you think I should interview for a spotlight, and why?
Appy: Amy Leask! I like the work she does with kids through her company Enable Education and is committed to working in the community promoting arts and culture.
Jenn: Thanks so much, Appy. It’s always such a pleasure to sit and chat with you. You’re definitely a fascinating part of the Arts Scene here in Milton, and I can’t wait to see your Culture Days project come to life!