Community Gathering Circle
On Monday August 16, 2021, individuals came together in-person and over Zoom at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (AEAC) at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Members of this Circle included Indigenous visual artists, textile artists, musicians, dancers, storytellers, and Knowledge Keepers.
About the Agnes Etherington Art Centre
The Agnes Etherington Art Centre (the Agnes) is an art museum that features exhibitions of historical and contemporary art year-round. The space features over 17,000 works of art, with a focus on contemporary and Indigenous art, as well as European, African, and Canadian historical works. The Indigenous Art Collection offers a variety of works from First Nations, Métis, and Inuit artists across Turtle Island.
An eastern view of the St. Lawrence River, courtesy of JP Longboat, taken the day of the Kingston Community Gathering.
Visioning an Indigenous creative space in Kingston
Gathering hosts Dr. Terri-Lynn Brennan, CEO of Inclusive Voices Inc., and Sebastian De Line, Associate Curator in Indigenous Care and Relations at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, offered the Agnes as a space for the Community Gathering in collaboration with the Agnes’ Executive Director and staff.
There is currently no sovereign Indigenous creative/cultural space in Kingston. The Gathering provided an opportunity to discuss a vision for Indigenous sovereign space, what it needs, and how it could be nurtured. Questions around developing this space included:
How will the community build spaces together?
What would an Indigenous creative space look like?
What is essential to the space, and what needs to be involved?
What values should it uphold?
What is missing?
Accessing the space
Community members need improved access to Indigenous creative spaces. Having a public transit system linked to Indigenous community spaces, especially in Northern and rural communities, can increase access for artists and local communities. Access to free or low-cost programs and the space itself, especially for Indigenous youth, can further support artists and community.
Celebrating culture, land, and teachings
The Circle touched on the importance of the space’s programming, and what it can give to community. Programming should be welcoming to many different cultures and backgrounds to respect all who visit and use the space. In this sense, programs have the potential to support generational knowledge across different cultures through the power of stories, including different aspects of cultural knowledge. In this way, the Gathering Circle suggested that the space’s name could evoke the sense that the space is an “All Nations House.”
The design of the space should also reflect Indigenous culture and teachings, as well as the importance of the land. When envisioning the space, the Gathering Circle expressed a need for it to be located on land where artists can access natural resources to harvest for their artistic practice. It was shared that large windows could connect the space to the land by visually opening the space to nature. Indigenous architectural design should also be considered when developing this new space: the Gathering Circle thought about how the space could be square or rectangular in structure, but oriented around the centrality of a circle. To contextualize this idea; it could be designed like a longhouse. The Circle also suggested that having this design rooted in teachings of the Four Directions could better reflect its commitment to culture.
When considering the core values of an Indigenous creative space in Kingston, the Circle came together in an interactive activity. The Gathering Circle was divided into groups, and compared common words, thoughts, and feelings that reflect core values of an Indigenous creative space. These words included: Celebration, Joy, Medicine/Healing, Good-Minded (Bimaadziwin), Inclusive, Seven Grandfather Teachings, Accessible, Land-Based, Harmony, Safe, Warm, Unity, Mentoring, Natural Law, Grounding, Laughter, Love, Agency, Culture/Cultural Activities (Teaching, Doing, Showing, Sharing), Storytelling, Elders, Spiritual Ancestors, Spacious, Inspiring, and Love.