Young Artists Of Kashechewan

Category: Community

(Brockville ON): It has been a productive 10 weeks in the Cree community of Kashechewan First Nation. A new offering by St. Lawrence College, the Aboriginal Arts Program, has finished successfully and its grand finale, for this first intake of students, is a gallery show at the Marianne van Silfhout Gallery on the Brockville campus in April.

“We have a talent that we would like to show the world!”, says Karen Wesley ” Not only are we interested in the art we do but the art we see other people do, it inspires us to be like them… or even better!”

Delivered as an online program, it presented 17 youths with a variety of information tailored to opening up an arts business as a source of revenue, all while the students could remain within their community. Morning sessions ranged from computer and camera training (Word, Excel, Photoshop, documenting artwork and website development) to arts business training (artist portfolio, marketing, galleries, contracts, product pricing and shipping) and Aboriginal success stories. In the afternoons, students met at the local school to network, and assist each other as they applied the knowledge learned in the morning to their afternoon assignments.

The program was a new and exciting teaching experience for local artist and St. Lawrence College Fine Arts Program instructor Laurie Sponagle. “It is amazing to be sitting here in Brockville teaching in front of two computer screens and discussing the day’s topic – but still having that interaction with the students, even though they are thousands of kilometers away – via a chat board, emails, and via audio headset and microphone.”

Students creative skills ranged from traditional Aboriginal materials and subject matter such as carving, drawing, clothing and beadwork to more contemporary photographic media and painting. Development Officer Mike Laking is excited to see the exhibition come together. “I was fascinated with the artwork seen on a previous trip to Kashechewan, and I am looking to forward to adding to my collection of artwork.”

The program provided each student with many of the items required by artists starting up their business – laptop computer, software, camera (still and video), tripod, plus some art supplies to create their art as well as further funding to cover the tuition & child care, if eligible. Sponagle knows the importance of having additional funding for child care available. In her successful 2009 submission for an Emerging Artists Grant from the Ontario Arts Council Grant in 2009, one of her requests was for funds for child care. “Most of the students have young families that are not in school yet, and it is very important to have that time to focus – whether on the arts business or creativity.”

Program trainers included internationally renowned artists John Sabourin, a Dene from the Dehcho First Nation (painter and carver) –; Laurie Sponagle (charcoal drawing) –; and Jamie St. Pierre, computer trainer (owner – We Support Live) –