The intentionality of Indigenous creative spaces 

 

The Community Gathering Circles shared that it is important for community members to feel safe in creative spaces. Artists and visitors must feel welcome in a space, have the full range of access to these spaces, have culturally-sensitive values, and there must be a strong link to land and traditional territory. 

Safe and culturally-sensitive spaces: When speaking about safety, each Gathering Circle spoke to the need for artists and community members to feel physically and emotionally safe when working in or visiting creative spaces. Physical safety was related to spatial security, and it is equally important for Indigenous artists to feel spiritually and emotionally safe by respecting cultural values and practices. The Gathering Circles shared concerns regarding unsafe settler spaces that have not respected cultural practices, such as refusing smudging or holding ceremony. 

Accessing spaces: Community Gathering Circles shared the importance of accessing Indigenous spaces for community members, and especially Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and cultural workers, to ensure that the diversity of communities can better access these spaces. Urban communities have greater access to transit systems, whereas rural communities have fewer systems in place, limiting access to Indigenous spaces.

Spaces linked to the land: The link between space and the land is key. If a creative space has a strong connection to the land, artists can access natural resources for art-making. In urban communities, there is a need for more interaction with green space for Indigenous artists and community members to work on the land. A direct connection can be reflected in the design of the space and the focus of its programming such as the harvesting of natural materials in the space for art-making. 

Spaces for learning: It is equally important for Indigenous creative spaces to support young Indigenous artists through intergenerational learning. Spaces can offer multi-disciplinary programs that teach various techniques of cultural art-making. Programming should also be financially affordable for youth and community members. Prioritizing support for Indigenous youth who activate the space can, in turn, support the space’s growth and longevity for future generations. 

 

Challenges around developing Indigenous creative spaces 

 

Gathering Circles identified challenges and barriers to developing spaces specifically around increased funding and networking. 

Need for increasing funding: While existing financial support for arts infrastructure is available, some Circles acknowledged that public funding models often take a colonial approach to investing in projects; to be more specific, limitations exist within application processes, project eligibility, and restrictive timelines. Increased operating funds for Indigenous organizations to manage creative spaces can help to expand organizational capacity. Expanding the amount of funding opportunities to train and mentor artists in different artistic disciplines, or funding travel, can also support Indigenous creative spaces in what they can offer to communities.

Need to network: Some Gathering Circles identified a knowledge gap in accessing resources to fund and mobilize creative space development. In some Gatherings Circles, members met for the first time and were surprised to learn about everyone’s artistic background and skills. A need to continually connect became clear. This was also reflected in discussions where Gathering Circles emphasized the importance of having a meal area in an Indigenous creative space to foster community connection in the space. Strengthening or creating a localized network for each community could address this knowledge gap, deepen relationships, and increase the possibility for more collaboration.

 

Sustaining Indigenous creative spaces

 

Two themes emerged around space sustainability from the Gathering Circles: governance (organizational and artistic leadership) and traditional knowledge. 

Governance: Existing and future Indigenous creative spaces need representation, autonomy, and sovereignty, rooted in Indigenous governing frameworks and laws. Circles discussed returning to traditional Indigenous ways of governance. Resources to support Indigenous governance of creative spaces must be made available to artists and community members looking to develop space.

Returning to Indigenous knowledge: Spatial design is an act of sovereignty for Indigenous creative spaces. Many Community Gathering Circles discussed how working/creating within current colonial infrastructures imposes limitations on Indigenous art creation. For example, the proscenium stage is a colonial design where the performances are viewed and projected in a positioning that is polarized (audiences sit in front of artists/art; artists and art perform in front of audiences). Western spaces are not designed with the centrality of a circle in mind where art and artists have an option to maximize their offering from all directions including above and below. Rather than following these examples, Indigenous artists prefer to animate and create in circle and on the land. Alternative building materials that incorporate the land, such as straw bales, can also be considered when developing sustainable Indigenous creative spaces. 

 

Next steps

 

Each Community Gathering conversation ended with hopeful thoughts and feelings around continuing the conversation in different capacities. Notes were shared by Co-Conveners and ABO so that Gathering hosts could reconnect with communities and hold more conversations in the future. Follow-up conversations have happened in some communities since their initial Community Gathering with the seeds of an art space being planted, or with spaces continuing their development.

 

Conclusion 

 

When envisioning what an Indigenous creative space can be, needs included physical accessibility; feeling physically, spiritually, and emotionally safe; having a space directly connected to the land; and creating a learning environment to teach young Indigenous artists from a cultural perspective, including through mentorship.

The Gathering Circles acknowledged challenges to developing creative spaces in the present day. There is a gap in knowledge around an established approach to creating Indigenous sovereign spaces, and it is important to create opportunities for artists and community members to connect and share/teach what they know. 

Indigenous creative spaces can be made more sustainable by following traditional governance models and returning to Indigenous knowledge when considering the design, operations, and management of creative spaces. In presenting the thoughts and feelings around what is needed, the Indigenous Creative Spaces Project offers this body of knowledge to inform and inspire the vision, design, and values of future Indigenous creative spaces.


 

Resources

 

Friday’s Point Community Gathering

 

Kingston Community Gathering

 

Manitoulin Island Community Gathering

 

North Bay Community Gathering

 

Six Nations of the Grand River Community Gathering

 

Thunder Bay Community Gathering

 

Toronto Community Gathering