Mapping an Indigenous-Led Model

June 13, 2019


“It's important that we embrace Indigenous communities at large and not just band councils and cultural friendship centers. This is about art for community and overcoming colonial structures. There may need to be connection with state led reconciliation, however apprehension surrounds this.”


At the gathering, Erin Sutherland presented on Ociciwan Contemporary Art Collective, a space-less collective who have been curating projects in Edmonton since 2015. In 2018, the city of Edmonton announced that with the support of a $1.5 million federal grant, it would create an arts hub that would be home to Ociciwan and other community projects. This new centre will include a community space, a resource library, meeting rooms, offices for rent, and a kitchen. Sutherland described an Indigenous-led space that has received support from multiple levels of government and other funding sources, and this prompted the group to consider the pros and cons of government funding. Participants were hyper aware of the histories of systemic harm, oppression, and violence caused by institutions, bands, and government structures. Feeling a lack of trust towards government funding models, the group was unsure whether it wanted to pursue an organizational model supported by public government funding.  

In the Atlantic region where individual urban centres have limited arts funding, resource sharing across territories is essential in order to support new initiatives. The group expressed a desire to overcome colonial structures, and circumvent official state-led reconciliation initiatives in order to serve multiple communities. In order to prioritize self-determination in the process of development, government institutions and external organizations would not be central to the governance structure.

Documentation by Raven Davis & Lee Lee Davis. Photo: Glenn Knockwood.

Documentation by Raven Davis & Lee Lee Davis. Photo: Glenn Knockwood.

The two day gathering was led by community engagement facilitators Raven Davis and Leelee Oluwatoyosi Eko Davis, who continually questioned “how we will engage with the institution and how we will deconstruct it?” Participants mapped a sprawling list of key players who would be involved in organizing and Indigenous-led artist-run centre, including Indigenous artists, friendship centres, band offices, universities, land trusts, all levels of government, Environment Canada, Heritage Canada, land elders, and Indigenous knowledge keepers. The group identified that funding, resources, spaces, and support would be contributed by multiple parties in order to create an organizational structure that is autonomous and accountable to community. One participant reminded the group to acknowledge the “communities within community.” This acknowledgement is essential, given that in order to gather together participants travelled from the unceded, unsurrendered lands of the Beothuk, Mi’kmaw, and Wolastoqiyik peoples, as well as the Inuit, the Innu, the Southern Inuit of NunatuKavut.

This network of artists insisted that this centre would expand the definition of “the artist” beyond the colonially-defined boundaries of the Canadian arts system, by catering to aging artists, non-artist youth, elder artists, and 2SLGBTQ artists.

Participants agreed that an Indigenous-led artist-run centre in the Atlantic would focus on land in a way that goes beyond territorial acknowledgement, by engaging land elders, land-based knowledge, and environment Canada. Brandon Hoax expressed that the centre should provide “support for territorial practices” with an administration that knows the “extensive history of the region and language.” Hoax envisioned a space that is not only a gallery, but provides “cultural teachings that represent the regions they are housed in.”

The group identified an extensive list of barriers to creative practice, such as bureaucratic gatekeeping, isolation, burnout, and a lack of childcare, safe(r) spaces, funding, mentorship, and resources. Ultimately, these barriers cannot be overcome by an Indigenous-led artist-run centre which focuses primarily on exhibiting artwork. While exhibition space may become a key part of the centre’s mandate, the group identified a more significant need for services and resources which nurture creative practices. An Indigenous-led artist-run centre in the Atlantic must offer more than a white wall gallery space; it must prioritize learning, mentorship, knowledge sharing, and play.

The intention behind this gathering was to ask initial questions and assess the needs of Indigenous artists in the Atlantic. Three key questions will determine the next direction of this planning process, and serve as guiding principles for the development of an Indigenous-led artist-run centre in the Atlantic:

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