Newmarket Welcome Centre, Aurora gallery support newcomers’ passions

From a young age, Newmarket resident Adubi “Dubi” Akinola knew he wanted to be an artist.

Born in Kitchener, he grew up in Nigeria with his grandmother, who loved the iconic Mona Lisa portrait by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci.

She had hung a big mural of Mona Lisa right behind her favourite chair and Akinola grew up asking her questions about it, which led him to pick up art just to impress his grandmother. 

Akinola came back to Canada in 2001 and worked at Southlake Regional Health Centre for over a decade where he became known as “The Man of a Thousand Paintings.”

Now the local artist’s paintings can be seen throughout the province and in Southlake Regional Health Centre, including his painting of a golden retriever puppy in the Newmarket hospital’s surgical ward.

Akinola has found great success as an artist and was even tasked with painting a mural of LA Lakers legend Kobe Bryant on stage at an event hosted by former Toronto Raptors head coach and current Philadelphia 76ers head coach Nick Nurse’s foundation a few years ago.

Many of his paintings are on display at Royal Rose Art Gallery & Gifts in Aurora and he and the gallery recently teamed up with the Welcome Centre Immigrant Services in Newmarket to display a few more.

Akinola’s paintings can be seen hanging at the Welcome Centre and today he paid a visit to the students there to answer questions and talk about his process as a painter.

Having come back to Canada from Nigeria, Akinola has turned his passion for painting into a career and it has helped him build connections with others as an immigrant. 

“I’m so proud of my paintings and I’m so glad the community enjoys them,” he said.

Tim McLinden, manager of the Welcome Centre, said that part of supporting newcomers is helping them fit into their community with softer skills.

“We want to show them that you can be part of the community,” he said. “We felt that working with Royal Rose and displaying art and giving them the opportunity to speak to an artist who also came to Canada would be very beneficial.”

With an art wall that didn’t have any art on it, collaborating with Royal Rose Art Gallery & Gifts to display different artists like this was a perfect fit, said McLinden. 

Hanging Akinola’s art and bringing him in to talk to the students was also a way of showing the students that it’s not all about getting a job, but that they can pursue their passions, too.

Going forward, every month or two, a different artist’s work will be featured on the walls of the Welcome Centre and there will be a meet and greet. 

“It’s fun doing stuff like this,” he said. “Having these social events and having them speak English also helps build their skills.”

Rosa Calabrese, owner of Royal Rose Art Gallery & Gifts, said that because the Welcome Centre supports newcomers to Canada, the artists who will be on display there will also be immigrants.

“We wanted to have them share their stories,” she said. “We want to show that while there are tough times, you can follow your dreams in Canada and you never know what could happen.”

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