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Providing Resources to Cultivate Indigenous Students’ Art Talent

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In ancient Greece, it was believed the Muses, Greek deities of song, dance, and memory, would give creativity, wisdom and insight to artists and thinkers.  

In the modern-day, the generations of great thinkers and creators may never come to be if they are not provided with the proper resources, teaching, and encouragement. This is a reality for many Indigenous communities. The nationally recognized Art For Aid Project, an I Love First Peoples program, works to put art into students’ hands in remote communities by redistributing new and slightly used art supplies.  

Starting in Executive Director and artist Collen Gray’s basement, the operation has grown large enough to warrant a shipping location. 

“Indigenous students on Reserves have fewer advantages than non-Indigenous students in mainstream schools,” says Gray. “Back in 2013, when I stumbled onto this giant gap in the education system in remote communities. As an Indigenous artist, I felt I owed myself to stand up and do something. The more I investigated, the more I discovered a significant lax in education in remote First Nation, Inuit, and Metis communities.”

It’s simply not fair, adds Gray, and they deserve the same quality of education as other students. Not only are there fewer supplies and resources, but turn-over rates for teachers are also incredibly high, with these students having to put up with considerable changes. Collecting art supplies serve several purposes. It allows people a vehicle to help and give students the quality and volume of art supplies people are donating. 

Art supplies are just the tip of the iceberg for what Art for Aid provides.  

Several years ago, Gary had the opportunity to visit a school in Natuashish in Northern Newfoundland. Having been shipping for nine years, Gray never had the chance to see any of the schools Art for Aid had been supporting. When the option arose, Gray jumped at the opportunity to see the students, teach in the classroom and ask the teachers and principal what she could do to help.

“When it comes to circumstances in remote communities, people assume to know what is needed or what’s wanted, and I don’t like to do that. I would rather ask,” says Gray. “In that course, ask the teachers and principal said, ‘we would love to have a sewing program.’ That’s all I needed. I’m a person who can get things, a bridge builder.”

After a few short weeks, Gray had a basement full of sewing supplies and sewing machines. The shipping costs for getting the supplies and machines out to Natuashish were astronomical, but luckily, rotary clubs could raise funds to cover the shipping costs.

“It was absolutely astounding how it came together so fast,” adds Gray. 

The following year, Gray wanted to continue building the Sew & Sew Skills Lab Project and started by looking for sewing machines appropriate for elementary students. During her research, she came across Janome Canada. Although cute, Janome informed Gray that the initial machines she had chosen would not stand up to the physical demands that elementary children would put through it. However, the disappointment Gray would feel would not be long-lived. Janome was so impressed with the project, and they wanted to donate 60 sewing machines, each retailing at $950.  Schools Participating in the Sew & Sew Program include Nain and Natuashish, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Pond Inlet and Igloolik, Nunavut. 

The Art for Aid Project continues to evolve to build bridges and help elevate Indigenous students in their artistic endeavours.

– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U Multicultural.

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