April: Inspiring community through art

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April @ SOVI

Image shows a mural depicting a community. The the background is a cityscape, with different coloured apartment buildings, trees, and birds. In the foreground are a diverse group of people. On the left, a woman is in front of a table with a young boy in a wheelchair next to her. In the middle, an elderly woman waters flowers with a young girl playing next to her. On the left, two adults and two kids tend to plants bursting with colour.

The feature image is mural depiction of community in Minneapolis. The mural project was created as a means of expression and relationship building. Photo credits to Redeemer Lutheran Church.

FEATURE INTERVIEW

This April, we’re thinking about the relationship between art and community. Our feature interview is with the Executive Director of the Victoria Arts Council, Kegan McFadden. He spoke with SOVI about the link between art and justice, the evolution of VAC’s work over the years, and about intentionally building inclusive communities.

The VAC began as the Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria in 1968. They have over 150 artists and a dozen community groups as members, and are especially known for their community partnerships and satellite galleries found in Greater Victoria Public Libraries library, airport, and other public spaces.

What is the relationship between local art and community development in Victoria?

When people look to dip their feet into the art world, they typically find us first. So, we end up being an introduction to different organizations and opportunities in the city. I like to make sure people understand that artists and art galleries are not social workers, and can’t act as mental health, addiction, or harm reduction professionals. Those roles have specific training toward helping community development. But, there is an overlap and meeting point. The VAC provides a platform through art exhibitions and dialogues where we can talk about social issues through an art lens.

For example, we have a monthly lecture series called Creative Mornings. During the summer, the theme was ‘home.’ In Victoria, ‘home’ is a fraught topic; we see so many people experiencing homelessness and barriers to shelter. We decided to highlight that conversation by inviting the mural artist Kay Gallivan who worked with Our Place Society in beautifying shipping containers they converted into Tiny Village homes in North Park. She was able to speak to that project, and her involvement in community advocacy through murals. Our intention is to highlight those overlaps. Our focus is on meeting the community where they are to amplify the good things taking place here.

The Victoria Arts Council’s digital magazine, UNTIL, has published issues themed around queerness, disability, justice, and more. Could you tell me about its history, and impact?

UNTIL started in the spring of 2020. We were experiencing forced closures, and couldn’t open our gallery for one hundred days. We had been planning our major community art show where we usually support 200 artists, so it was a major blow. Our team brainstormed, and UNTIL began. It’s a nod to the saying “Until we meet again.”

With my colleagues, Leah McInnis and Monica Liu, we published six issues in about two months, and supported 100 artists with a public platform and paid honoraria. There was a real diversity in the artforms we could accommodate, but we were also able to welcome folks who may not be able to contribute to a physical art show. It was supposed to end there, but it was such a success we turned it into a quarterly magazine. We now have guest editors, who we collaborate with to cultivate the theme. I worked with Kemi Craig on The Prequel issue, which came after the amplification of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. We wanted to meaningfully contribute to the conversation, and thought about how The Prequel speaks to Afro-Futurism and other speculative possibilities. The great thing about guest editors is their ties to different circles in the community; they are able to invite artists who may not have accessed the call for submissions previously. It’s all about removing barriers and inviting folks to the table. The Arts Council is only as strong as our members– it’s a mutual respect. Our May 1st issue will explore the theme Esquimalt.

What responsibilities do artists and art-focused organizations have to their communities?

One of the responsibilities the VAC has is to promote the reality that art is labour, and artists need to be paid accordingly. We’re able to do this between the magazine, exhibitions and Creative Mornings.

But, there’s a real economic disparity within the arts, leading to issues around access. UNTIL has allowed us to be self-reflective. When we put out the call for our latest issue, On Disability, we realized the magazine needed an accessibility audit. After finding out it wasn’t at all accessible, we ended up with a whole new website format to make it better for voice navigators. Similarly, in 2021, we fundraised to build a wheelchair ramp for our main gallery space. The rhetoric coming to us is, “If you’re not accessible to your community, why should you be supported through donations and grants?” Now, we’re trying to be at the forefront of that conversation locally.

How can art mobilize folks to engage in social and/or environmental justice work? Are there any examples you can think of?

For galleries and artists, if you’re not talking about what’s happening in the world, what are you doing? For example, last year we had an exhibition called “Eco Echo.” Local artists used material from the land to talk about environmental justice and climate emergency. We had Clare Thomas, who gathered garbage from the beach and archived it in glass jars. Everything from plastic netting, to tampon applicators, to pop rings. We had an artist Joanne Sale who made biodegradable wallpaper using a pattern of insects going extinct. It all led to a larger conversation–we all know the importance of environmental justice, but I think we need different platforms and mediums to discuss it.

In 2020 and 2021, we did two joining projects; one in Morioka, Japan and one locally. We presented the works of the Indigenous artist-in-residence in Victoria, Dylan Thomas, and a Japanese artist Sakura Koretsune. It was the 35th anniversary of the ‘Sister Cities’ designation between Victoria and Morioka. The point of the show, When Two Waters Meet, was to talk about salmon, and the importance it plays in both Coast Salish and Japanese cultures. These two artists made completely different artwork, but found a meeting point through salmon and its importance culturally and economically. It was great to then discuss fisheries and their issues– which went beyond the local to an international perspective. It was very cool to be leading that conversation through art.

How would you like to see the relationship the VAC and community members grow or change?

We’re at an interesting point in history with nonprofits. In the past, it was accepted that you would pay a membership to an organization to be part of what they do. With the proliferation of digital and social media, you have access to everything without membership. I would love to see that idea of mutual support be brought back. The other important part is asking, ‘What sort of people would value our membership?’ Our membership isn’t a monoculture, but it could be more diverse. We have to think about shifting our programs to show we’re inclusive and responsible to the community en masse.

Toward that shift, we received funding from the City of Victoria to commission an artist that identifies as Black, Indigenous or a Person of Colour to create a new billboard outside our gallery. It will be a testament that we support marginalized and/or racialized artists in Victoria. We want to extend the call broadly, but we’re taking the process slowly. When you rush, you make mistakes. We’re learning, and realized we need to take time to create a call for everyone, by translating it and using accessible language. We’d like to honour the idea, “Nothing about us without us.” In doing so, we can be a funnel to support marginalized artistic communities. Our location is one of the most rapidly gentrifying areas in the city, and will look entirely different in ten years. We want to remind folks that this is an arts neighbourhood and racialized artists call this place home, too. Let's honour those histories.

CHAPTER NEWS

SOVI is taking time to gather as a team to re-establish our goals and plans for the upcoming year. We’re excited to continue connecting with other organizations and individuals to help grow and develop within our community.

In the meantime, our Anti-Racist Community of Practice continues to run monthly meetings. Recently, we had a facilitated art workshop with Lindsay Katsitsakatste Delaronde, which explored familial childhoods, intergenerational experiences, and how they shape our journeys with anti-racism. If you’re interested in joining this space of vulnerability and learning, send us an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!

RECENTLY

Image shows Kent Monkman's painting 'The Scream' which tells the story of the Sixties Scoop. In the painting, RCMP officers and members of the Catholic church violently steal Indigenous children from their homes, whilst their families desperately struggle to hold on to them. Art is used as a catalyst for social change, activism, and community development in countless ways. For at least a century, protest art has adorned public spaces to speak to injustice. Pieces like Kent Monkman's famous 'Shame and Prejudice' exhibit help reshape our understanding of history. It's integral to society- the Canada Council for the Arts outlines the difference arts-based initiatives and enterprises make in communities across BC. Victoria’s Puente Theatre is highlighted, which bridges cultures through theatre celebrating diversity and immigration stories. Art is a vehicle toward economic development and sustainability for underserved groups– a mission of the Indigenous Arts Collective of Canada, which specifically serves Indigenous women. Unique creative forms also garner attention and interest; recently the Victoria professional soccer team Pacific FC unveiled new jerseys designed by Coast Salish artist Maynard Johnny Junior. The jerseys are meant to catch attention and tell a story of Indigenous and Canadian relations, to mobilize reconciliation. On a smaller level, individuals also use their artistic talents to aid other causes relevant to their local communities. Art for Dogs is an upcoming exhibit at the Cage Gallery, where folks can purchase dog-centered pieces to raise money for the SPCA. Through varying mediums and scale, art not only shapes our perception of the world, but our behaviour within it.

WHAT'S NEXT...

  • Creative Mornings: Kismet with Marie Metaphor Spech I April 29th I Creative Mornings Victoria

    • Join multidisciplinary artist and poet Marie Metaphor Specht in a Creative Mornings discussion! The word Kismet is derived from the Arabic word, qisma, meaning “portion” or “lot.” When we think of Kismet as a predestined outcome of an event or series of events, the question becomes: What, of all this collective living, actually belongs to us? What can we claim as our own? And if you are an artist: What is it to create here, in this particular physical and temporal location?
    • Learn more and sign up for Creative Mornings
  • Gender Reveal's Trans POC Grant I April 30th I The Gender Reveal Podcast
    • Gender Reveal is awarding ten $500 grants to trans artists and activists of colour! We are specifically looking for applicants whose work supports trans folks, people of colour, or other marginalized communities, and/or whose work fosters exploration and celebration of gender diversity.

    • Click for details on applying to this grant
  • Trans, Non-Binary, Two-Spirit and Gender Diverse Artist Retreat I May 13-15 I Gender Generations
    • Join a free, weekend-long retreat where Trans youth will learn the basics for creating a mural. While learning, it is also the perfect space to connect and converse with other Trans, Non-Binary, Two Spirit, and Gender Diverse folks! Connect and bond with the others that attend the retreat during breaks, meal times, sessions, and open mic night!

    • Sign up to be an attendee or mentor by April 25th, here.
  • Arts-Based Community Development & Leon and Thea Koerner Award I May 17 I BC Arts Council
    • Are you part of an organization or group providing arts-based development to a specified community? Consider applying to receive funding from the BC Arts Council! These awards support projects that provide a tangible and active understanding of arts and culture as a path to health, well-being, human dignity, and social transformation.

    • Application details and criteria, here.
  • AfriCa Fest I May 29th I ISSAMBA Centre
    • AfriCa Fest is an annual FREE outdoor community event that celebrates Africa’s diverse cultures through live music performance, drum & dance, arts & crafts, African food, and workshops. The event is designed to appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds and particularly to anyone with an interest in world music and culture!

    • RSVP for AfriCa Fest, here.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

“My goal as an artist is to create art that makes people look at the world in a different way.”

- Autumn de Forest

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SOVI is based on the stolen lands of the Lək̓ʷəŋən Peoples (known by the colonial name of Victoria, BC). To contact us directly, please write us at r34.

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