It’s not easy to make a living as a Indigenous artist in the N.W.T., but a new collective of established creatives has formed with a mission to change that.
The Atti Indigenous Artists’ Collective officially formed over this past year after receiving a funding boost worth $100,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts last spring.
Its six members have been hard at work, strategizing ways to increase the representation and support of Indigenous artists across disciplines.
Kyle Napier is Métis from Fort Smith, N.W.T., and the group’s research lead. Though still in the “formative stages,” he told CBC the collective hopes to eventually act as an advocating body that ensures artists’ needs are being met.
“We recognize that there is a gap between territorially-assured funding, and whether that funding reaches Indigenous artists in Indigenous communities,” Napier said, “and that necessitates something like the Atti Indigenous Artists’ Collective.
“We cannot pretend to represent the needs of all people, but we can gather and collect a deeper understanding of the needs of Indigenous artists across the territories, so we are able to say, ‘This is what we’ve heard, and this is 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 barriers
The collective has focused its efforts so far on determining specific barriers that Indigenous artists face.
Napier said they’ve hired three researchers to aid in the task — with plans to hire several more — and have conducted around 30 interviews with artists in the Beaufort Delta, Tłı̨chǫ, Dehcho, and South Slave regions.
Already, the team has noticed several recurrent concerns, including insufficient funding, a lack of material resources in smaller communities, and internet constrictions.
Language can also present a challenge, Napier said, especially for those who don’t speak English as a first language. This spurs new problems when it comes finding grants.
“Many of these applications favour folks who can speak English in the grant-type language, and if people aren’t used to grant writing, intimidation can be a barrier,” he explained. “A lot of folks wouldn’t have even applied, because they don’t see themselves … as qualified.”
The team aims to do another 70 interviews, with a maximum of three voices per community, to complete its research by summer 2023. Afterward, an executive director will be hired to head the collective and create programming, such as artistry workshops or career development.
“It will be really on a community-to-community level,” Napier said.
Space available for Indigenous artists in Yellowknife
The Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC) in Yellowknife has been providing the group with both administrative and financial support as it develops.
As the only performance centre in the N.W.T., executive director Marie Coderre said it makes sense for the organization to be involved.
“We are trying to create a model where Indigenous and non-Indigenous [people] can work together for the sake of having an Indigenous arts program, led by Indigenous people,” Coderre said. “It’s really important that Indigenous people are part of the decision-making.”
Recently, the two have partnered to turn six empty offices — located in Yellowknife’s Centre Square Mall, and previously used for NACC’s mentorship program — into free studio space for Indigenous artists.
According to Tanya Roach, another collective member, a lack of spaces to produce art, host workshops, or just gather with peers is a longstanding issue in the city.
“With the high cost of rent, a lot of artists make art in their home,” Roach said. “This would offer a lot more space for them to use, [and] they can meet with the public or other artists in ways that they might not if they were working in their garage.”
The collective is currently accepting applications from those interested in the spaces.
Roach said they hope to have them filled by the end of January.