Salt Spring Arts has been recognized for its work toward reconciliation with local First Nations by a nomination for the 2023 B.C. Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism Awards.
The nomination, submitted by Jennifer Iredale of Mayne Island, was for a Breaking Barriers Award, which is “provided to an outstanding organization or individual for their work in tackling systemic or institutional racism and reducing barriers for marginalized communities.” As Iredale wrote in her nomination, she believed Salt Spring Arts has been doing exactly that type of work in its efforts to bring Indigenous artists, elders and knowledge keepers into regular arts council programs.
The three-year Artcraft Indigenous Pilot Program was the focus of the nomination. Started in 2021, the program seeks to reduce barriers that would prevent Indigenous artists in the region from participating in the annual Artcraft gallery and its exhibitions. Residency in the Southern Gulf Islands is normally a requirement for participation, but colonial policy and historic racism have meant the SENĆOŦEN and Hul’q’umi’num’-speaking nations were largely divided into reserve lands based on Vancouver Island village sites. As a result, few of the Indigenous peoples who count the islands as part of their unceded territory actually live here today.
The Artcraft pilot project therefore removed the residency requirement for Indigenous participants and eliminated all registration fees and sales commissions. Support for transporting artworks to and from Salt Spring was incorporated, along with technical support for artist statements, photos and directory listings.
Working with Indigenous curator Rose Spahan, Salt Spring Arts introduced a total of 12 regional Indigenous artists to Artcraft and its Showcase exhibition program over the first two years of the project. Positive results that Iredale enumerated include “sales and exposure for Indigenous artists who would not otherwise have had access to that venue; shifting a public misunderstanding of local history that erased Indigenous culture; creating a more multicultural environment on Salt Spring in the present day; and most importantly, building meaningful connections and relationships between Indigenous and settler communities in the Salish Sea region.”
The organization is still working to create new relationships with regional Indigenous artists. Visitors to Artcraft this summer can expect to see work by another six to eight new Indigenous participants.
The resounding success of the JSIṈSET ŚW̱ELO₭E Exhibition in 2022, curated by Spahan and featuring the Elliott family, has meanwhile encouraged plans for more Indigenous-based Showcases.
Salt Spring Arts also continues to strengthen and build on connections made. Both Spahan and W̱SÁNEĆ cultural advisor J’SINTEN John Elliott will be back on Salt Spring this April for events happening during the Spring Art Show. Philip Kevin Paul, an award-winning poet and SENĆOŦEN language champion, will headline a Salish Sea authors night at another Spring Art Show event set for April 18.