JENNIFER PRITCHETT TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL
Considered a vital part of Canadian culture, aboriginal art is varied from the Haida in the west to the Inuit in the Arctic. Now, in an effort to cultivate and promote more aboriginal art in this province, artsnb is making important new inroads with First Nation artists.
The arm’s length provincial government funding agency for artists, also known as the New Brunswick Arts Board, and the Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI), which works to support New Brunswick aboriginal people achieve their potential, has hired two part-time outreach workers on a one-year contract to travel throughout the province to deliver workshops in First Nation communities.
Akoulina Connell, executive director of artsnb, said it’s essential for the board to have community outreach workers who understand the cultural background that will enable First Nations artists to connect with the board to access its programs and funding.
“We fund grants that promote excellence in the arts, but on top of that, we also have a responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to cultural expression and that excellence in cultural expression across the demographics of our province has an opportunity to be heard and appreciated,” she said.
Connell said the board ran a pilot project with aboriginal outreach workers in 2008-09 and it resulted in an increase in the number of applications to the board from First Nations artists.
“We saw it go from an average of two successful applications a year to around 27,” she said. “When that pilot project came to a close, we saw the numbers go right back down to where they were before.” Connell said it’s clear the outreach positions are critical and artsnb has been working over the last two years with a circle of elders to boost the number of applications from First Nations people to the board.
The elders played an integral part in the hiring process of the outreach workers.
“We conducted a nationwide scan of all aboriginal arts programming that exist in other provinces, territories and at the national level and then we examined what is needed here in New Brunswick,” she said.
From that research, the elders assisted artsnb in developing a package of programs for First Nations artists in New Brunswick and the board has presented it to Premier David Alward.
“There are some (First Nations) artists who have international reputations and we don’t know who they are and it shouldn’t be that way,” said Connell.
The idea, she said, is to change that.
Katie Nicholas and Natalie Sappier, both recent graduates of the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, have been hired to promote artsnb programming/grants and also to undertake capacity-building workshops targeted to aboriginal artists in New Brunswick.
The hope is that they will facilitate improved access to existing artsnb programs and this will lead to dedicated programs for First Nations artists and partnership development for First Nations communities and organizations.
“JEDI is pleased to have artsnb as a partner,” said Alex Dedam, JEDI president, in a statement. “These new outreach officers have an important job and will help open doors for many people.” Tim Borlase, chairman of artsnb, said the work of the outreach workers will be “an important step in acknowledging and developing a strong relationship with professional aboriginal artists across New Brunswick.
The funding for the project is being provided under JEDI, funded by the New Brunswick Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the New Brunswick Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, as well as Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.