ArtsLinkNB recently hosted a conference entitled “Making it in New Brunswick” for its members. These conferences serve to bring people through networking, educate about fun topics that artists need to know about (such as taxation, as seen in the photo) and this time they focused on what it takes to make a career as an artist in New Brunswick. I was unable to go but was interested in what they were talking about so I asked ArtsLinkNB executive director Gillian Dykeman to share with us how the weekend went. If you are an artist, or are a part of the creative community, or just enjoy local art and want to know more about what it’s like to be an artist in our province, it’s well worth a read! If you’d like to know more about ArtsLinkNB and how to become a member, go to their website: www.artslinknb.com
Text by Gillian Dykeman, photos by Mike Erb/Photo 506
ArtsLink NB represents artists of all disciplines from across the province, and every year we host a Forum with a new theme and lineup of programming – this year, our theme was Making it in New Brunswick. The Forum is a key opportunity to learn how to harness art, culture, and creativity as catalysts for community vibrancy, sustainability, prosperity, and inclusiveness. This year we asked our guests and members what it takes to make it as artists here. We looked at the potential virtues and challenges that collaboration offers to fortify our vital sector.
The Forum kicked off on November 4th with a workshop entitled Networking Power: Collaborative Structures as Creative Practice hosted by our keynote speaker, Justin Langlois. Langlois teaches at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, but his insights into working as a contemporary artist in a marginalized part of Canada come from his experiences with the artist collective Broken City Lab in Windsor, Ontario. Langlois worked with workshop participants to find a clear definition of collaboration, and to talk about what needs to be in place for collaboration to succeed. The exercise stayed pretty meta as the group together answered questions about power-dynamics of working in a group.
Claire Shiplett, a program officer at artsnb (the New Brunswick Arts Board) delivered an incredibly informative presentation and workshop about the granting programs available through artsnb. Shiplett also answered member questions and helped them to figure out what would work best for their individual and community-based projects.
That evening, ArtsLink joined forces with the New Brunswick Filmmaker’s Co-operative to co-host a reception for Making it in New Brunswick and the Silverwave Film Festival. Following opening remarks by Donovan Richard, president of the New Brunswick Filmmaker’s Co-operative, ArtsLink delivered some important words of thanks to Nathalie Dubois (outgoing director of Arts and Culture industries in the department of Tourism, Heritage, and Culture) and outgoing ArtsLink president Kathy Hamer. David in the Dark then rocked the Charlotte St. Arts Centre auditorium while arts folks of all disciplines mingled and networked. Opportunities to collaborate, share resources, and create new networks are built when we get to know each other through events such as this.
(Outgoing president Kathy Hamer)
Bright and early the next morning (Nov 5th), ArtsLink members arrived for another day of programming and networking. Solo Chicken’s Lisa Anne Ross launched us into the day with an invigorating collaborative and participatory activity. Everyone in attendance got into pairs, and subsequently groups to brainstorm and create a vision for a fantastic, no-holds-barred, community engaged art project. After only a few energetic five-minute power sessions, the various groups offered up some fabulous ideas. These ranged from a story-telling collaborative quilt, several large-scale multidisciplinary festivals, interpretative walks, a community drum, and and flotilla with a zeppelin.
Now properly awoken and caffeinated, ArtsLink membership participated in the business part of the day with our annual general meeting. This was followed by a presentation by Michel Desjardins on the progress of the Premier’s Task Force for the Status of the Artist, an important project seeking to address the socio-economic challenges artists face while pursuing a career in New Brunswick. The Task Force is endeavouring to make recommendations to the premier to have the Status of Artists and our collective contributions to the good of the province officially recognized through an act to be introduced through the legislature. Further, the task force is pushing for social supports that respond to the atypical work cycles many artists experience. This could be accomplished through income averaging, EI exceptions, or Guaranteed Annual Income. A number of artists and arts administrators (including representation from ArtsLink) participate in the consultations that guide these recommendations to the premier.
Lunch followed along and a chance to network and chat about the forum’s theme Making it in New Brunswick. Shortly after, Justin Langlois delivered a gripping keynote speech entitled Impossible Demands: Expanding the Role of Art in Small Communities. For Langlois, community oriented artwork isn’t about solving large problems, but instead about committing to a place and working with what and who is already there. Through numerous projects (all of which were collaborative in nature), Langlois and his interlocutors work to create structures that provide community gathering places, spaces for civic engagement, and either through or parallel to these initiatives, space for artistic production. Community arts projects sometimes gain a bad rap for “parachuting” art projects into communities without asking if they want them in the first place, or worse treating communities as a blank canvas with no attention to the particular needs or desires of said community. Aware of this potential pitfall, Langlois’ projects such as “Neighbourhood Exchange” and the collective Broken City Lab (of which he is a part) try to sensitively respond to the communities in which they find themselves to artistically generative ends.
Throughout his talk, Langlois also tacitly suggested new configurations for what “counts” as community. A lot of his projects allow for their own unravelling should the group of collaborators involved deem it to be over. Projects can be productive and successful on a small scale; by willing to be temporary, limited, or iterative, artists of all disciplines can sometimes access whole new communities and develop new audiences. A key aspect of the long-term success with this kind of work is derived from clear documentation and reflection to be shared outwards.
Langlois’ speech was followed by some fantastic questions from the audience and suggestions that a number of his projects and methods would resonate well with New Brunswick artists and audiences. We finished the day with an hour long panel discussion focused on the relationship between collaboration and making it at an artist here. David Adams, Emily Saab, Craig Smith Dow, Alison Gayton, and Justin Langlois fielded questions put forward by facilitator Julie Scriver. The majority of participants emphasized volunteering and community engagement as a key aspect of their personal sense of “making it”. David Adams stressed the entrepreneurial skills it would seem are needed by every artist. Emily Saab reflected on the need for artists and institutions to have the skill of “translating” what we do to potential funders or audiences. Alison Gayton credited some of her sense of success (both as an instructor and facilitator) to her extended learning beyond her technical training – in particular learning “Choice Theory” through Quality Learning NB.
(David Adams, Emily Saab, Craig Smith Dow, Alison Gayton, and Justin Langlois)
“I was at Artslink’s forum Making it in NB because of the social activism aspect of my work. I need to see the folks at risk in my community succeed, in order to validate making my work. Learning about the work of Broken City Lab through Justin Langlois shone a light on what it’s like to live and make art in a city struggling. It was my pleasure to share the small successes of Gaining Ground and to explain how answering the call to work in my community has molded my sculptural practice of the ongoing ‘Listener’ series.” – Alison Gayton
The overall experience of the panel highlighted the need for artists to find ways to participate in their communities, and even to build community at a grassroots level.
So what is collaboration? How can it enter our practices and how does it figure into “making it” here? The take-home, for me, is that we can do much more together than on our own. We can reach out to our fellow artists, ask for help from like-minded community organizations and companies, and respond to community needs through artistic practice. The Forum itself was the product of extensive collaboration; from our shared reception with Silverwave, to the workshop provided by our partners at artsnb, generous donations and gifts from our sponsors (Created Here, for instance) the venue provided by the provincial archives, to the numerous volunteers who made it all possible. ArtsLink’s entire modus operandi is to network, unite, grow and create prosperity not just in our own sector, but to emphasize the role the arts have in doing so for all New Brunswickers. Collaboration works, connects us, and reflects shared sense of purpose.