Big Medicine Studio
Legacy Story Overview
Aanmitaagzi & Big Medicine Studio
The visioning for Aanmitaagzi (Anishinaabemowin for “he or she speaks”) began in 2006 when Co-Artistic Directors Sid Bobb and Penny Couchie moved to Nipissing First Nation. Born from a need to support the arts community across North Bay and the surrounding region, the Aanmitaagzi Collective was formed in 2008 by Sid Bobb and Penny Couchie, with other founding members Carol Guppy and Perry McLeod-Shabogeesic. Aanmitaagzi’s early work included hosting creative art-making sessions and helping to secure rehearsal space. Everyone who engaged with Aanmitaagzi was well taken care of with meals and access to washrooms as needed.
With the increase in Aanmitaagzi’s work with the community, there was a need for more space.
Big Medicine Studio
The space was originally envisioned as a dance studio on the land of Sid and Penny’s home. Over time, this idea expanded to create a studio space in 2010, which started as a 30 x 40 square ft. studio box.
Aanmitaagzi created a 10-year lease with Big Medicine Studio, which is a sole proprietorship. The space has since expanded to become a 1700 square ft. facility. It includes: 1,200 square foot dance studio/theatre with a sprung floor (donated to them by Citadel & Compagnie, formerly Coleman & Lemieux), full kitchen, two-piece bathroom, three-piece wheelchair accessible bathroom, sound system, video projector and screen, seating and tables for 75 people, and configurable staging/risers for audience or performers.
Aanmitaagzi is a multi-disciplinary arts organization that serves local surrounding communities in the North Bay, Sudbury, Temagami areas with international partnerships and connections. On a local level, Aanmitaagzi regularly collaborates with organizations to host events such as Ice Follies, where community art is showcased on Lake Nipissing. Aanmitaagzi provides opportunities for professional development, artistic creation, and education through Indigenous traditional arts practices.
Aanmitaagzi offers space that is accessible to the community: for example, artists can use Big Medicine Studio or Aanmitaagzi’s onsite tipi to gather. Aanmitaagzi additionally holds Sacred Fires when the community is in need of healing.
Legacy Story Circle
On Thursday, October 29, 2020, 11 individuals came together in circle to speak about the history and goals of Aanmitaagzi. Held in Big Medicine Studio, eight individuals within the Legacy Story Circle involved with Aanmitaagzi shared stories of the organization and space.
To support the creative process of storytelling in the circle, Penny and Sid passed around pastels and colored pencils to draw special memories of the space. Common ideas shared in each piece of storytelling included the importance of Aanmitaagzi as a safe space where everyone is made to feel equal, and that is founded in family and community.
A safe space
The Legacy Story Circle acknowledged that Aanmitaagzi and Big Medicine Studio always made visitors feel physically, spiritually, and emotionally safe – this is an important part of Aanmitaagzi’s work. Aanmitaagzi encourages community members to feel safe to develop artistic ideas in their own ways. Conversations in the Circle touched on how important it is for parents to feel safe to bring their children into a space, as it is often difficult to bring kids into public spaces where adults are working.
A space where everyone is equal
The Circle noted that everyone is made to feel equal in the space, and there are no hierarchies present. This is especially important to understand Aanmitaagzi’s approach in supporting the community: while Sid and Penny are the Co-Founders of the organization, the Legacy Story Circle shared that Aanmitaagzi’s leadership does not operate under a hierarchical model.
A space founded in community and family
The Legacy Story Circle acknowledged that Aanmitaagzi and Big Medicine have faced very few barriers from the community, and have built a positive rapport in Nipissing and surrounding communities. Circle members envisioned the space as a living family member, cared for by everyone who uses it. The Circle recollected special moments of the space, noting the strength of its community members, installing exhibits and creating props for Ice Follies.
An image of painted masks on a wall in Big Medicine Studio.
Vision for the future
Aanmitaagzi and Big Medicine Studio expressed needs around greater access to funding from provincial and federal granting bodies, more professional development opportunities for Indigenous artists around grant writing, and more environmentally sustainable practices for Big Medicine Studio. Sid and Penny identified needs around increased funding to support their artists, professional development opportunities, and resource-sharing.
Penny and Sid also identified a need for resources to support grant-writing for artists and arts managers, Indigenous creative space development, and lease-making for spaces on reserve to be made more accessible. Aanmitaagzi shared a vision for a more environmentally-sustainable space. They plan to build another creative maker space for canoe-building and moose harvesting. They are considering sustainable alternatives for space operations, such as becoming Wood Energy Technology Transfer (WETT) certified to use wood-burning energy more effectively rather than relying on gas and electricity.