New NWT Collective Aims to Strengthen Support for Indigenous Artists
It’s not easy to make a living as an Indigenous artist in the Northwest Territories, but a new collective of established creators has formed with a mission to change that.
The Atti Aboriginal Artists Collective was officially formed over the past year after receiving $100,000 in funding from the Canada Council for the Arts last spring.
Its six members have worked hard to develop strategies to increase representation and support for Aboriginal artists in all disciplines.
Kyle Napier is Métis from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, and the group’s research leader. Although still in the « formative stages, » he told CBC the collective hopes to eventually act as an advocacy body that will ensure artists’ needs are met.
“We recognize that there is a disconnect between funding provided by the territory and whether or not that funding is reaching Indigenous artists in Indigenous communities,” Napier said, “and that requires something like the artist collective native Atti.
« We cannot claim to represent the needs of all peoples, but we can bring together and gather a deeper understanding of the needs of Indigenous artists across the territories, so that we are able to say, ‘This is what we have. heard, and that’s how these artists are not supported.' »
Alongside Napier, the board includes Leanne Goose, Reneltta Arluk, Inuksuk Mackay, Tanya Roach and Shandi Hunter.
Funding, language among the barriers
So far, the collective has focused its efforts on identifying the specific barriers faced by Indigenous artists.
Napier said he hired three researchers to help him with this task – with the intention of hiring several more – and conducted about 30 interviews with artists in the Beaufort Delta, Tłı̨chǫ, Dehcho and South Slave.
Already, the team has noticed several recurring problems, including insufficient funding, a lack of material resources in small communities, and internet restrictions.
Language can also present a challenge, Napier said, especially for those who don’t speak English as their first language. This creates new problems when it comes to finding grants.
« A lot of these applications favor people who can speak English in the grant-like language, and if people aren’t used to granting writing, bullying can be a barrier, » he explained. « A lot of people wouldn’t even apply because they don’t consider themselves…qualified. »
The team aims to do another 70 interviews, with a maximum of three votes per community, to complete its research by the summer of 2023. Thereafter, an executive director will be hired to lead the collective and create programming, such as artistic or career development workshops.
« It’s really going to be at the community level, » Napier said.
Space available for Indigenous artists in Yellowknife
The Northern Arts and Culture Center (NACC) in Yellowknife provided the group with administrative and financial support as it developed.
As the only performance center in the NWT, Executive Director Marie Coderre said it made sense for the organization to get involved.
« We’re trying to create a model where aboriginals and non-aboriginals [people] can work together to have an Indigenous arts program, led by Indigenous peoples,” Coderre said. “It is really important that indigenous peoples are part of the decision-making process.
Recently, the two teamed up to turn six empty offices – located in Yellowknife’s Center Square Mall, and previously used for the ANCC’s mentorship program – into free studios for Indigenous artists.
According to Tanya Roach, another member of the collective, the lack of spaces to produce art, organize workshops or simply meet with peers has been a long-standing problem in the city.
« With the high cost of rent, many artists make art from their homes, » Roach said. « It would give them a lot more space to use, [and] they can meet the public or other artists in a way that they could not meet if they worked in their garage. »
The collective is currently accepting applications from people interested in the spaces.
Roach said they hope to have them completed by the end of January.