BY BILL PHILLIPS
If you believe in signs from above, it definitely was one.
As a group of Prince George artists gathered to celebrate the launch of the Northern Indigenous Artists’ Collective, an eagle gently circled overhead. A good sign, for sure.
The newly-minted Northern Indigenous Artists’ Collective was created to support Indigenous artists throughout the northern central district of British Columbia.
The Northern Indigenous Artists’ Collective is led by a steering committee of eight artists whose goal is to help Indigenous artists in northern B.C.
“The intention is to operate as an unincorporated collective, but with the eventual goal of incorporating as a non-profit society,” said Diane Levesque, steering committee member.
The committee which led to the formation of the collective, through the Community Arts Council, helped with the creation of an indigenous arts administrator and indigenous arts office. Funding for NIAC has been provided by the Community Arts Council, the Prince George Community Foundation and the Vancouver Foundation.
So what is the Northern Indigenous Artists’ Collective?
“It’s a group of local indigenous artists here in Prince George who have a vision of working collectively to achieve inclusive, accessible and equitable opportunities for for advancement of traditional and contemporary arts as well as professional development for Indigenous artists here,” said Levesque.
The steering committee is currently comprised of Shirley Babcock, Darrin Corbiere, Carla Joseph, Lynette La Fontaine, Dianne Levesque, Len Paquette and Jennifer Pighin. Ivan Paquette acts as the liaison between the group and the Community Arts Council, where he serves as the reconciliation officer on their board of directors.
“We’re going to be addressing issues facing Indigenous artists in northern B.C.,” she said. “We’re going to advocate for Indigenous artists. We going to pursue and provide support … We also seek to create an Indigenous artist industry in northern B.C.”
That support can include everything from helping artist write proposals to copywriting to developing their art.
“We recognize there a strong need for support for Indigenous artists in order to create a commercially-viable, culturally and professionally satisfying and rewarding practice,” said Jennifer Pighin. “These things are hard to do, especially when you’re isolated in a further northern community.”
She said the collective will also try to help prevent Indigenous artists from being taken advantage of.
“We need a strong collective voice for advocacy and funding for Indigenous artists to make sure our artists get the same opportunities as others do in larger, urban centres,” said Pighin. “… We recognize that arts play a strong role in setting the path towards true reconciliation and the revitalization of our diverse and ever-changing cultures.”
The group’s plans for the coming year include professional development activities for its members. Memberships are now available to any artist in the district who is self-identifying as Indigenous.
The group has an office located at Studio 2880 and is nested within the Community Arts Council of Prince George and District. Both groups intend to collaboratively hire a new staff member this fall to work as the area’s Indigenous arts administrator. This new employment position will help the organization seek its goal of becoming an independent arts council over the coming year, with both local arts councils eventually sharing the new, community arts facility that is currently in development in downtown Prince George.
The group is also working to organize a major arts symposium in Prince George, drawing in Indigenous artists from across the northern region of B.C,, in March 2019.