Arts Atlantic Symposium strengthens regional art community ties

Karyann Ostroski, Candice Ostroski, Gary Weekes, Thandiwe McCarthy, Karrie Nash, Mike Gabriella, Mark Paul, and Dan Costello attended to the Arts Atlantic Symposium this past Oct 29, 2022. (Submitted: Candice Ostroski)

Candice Ostroski, a watercolour artist from Bathurst, found herself in a stairwell of a hotel listening to a private concert from a barbershop quartet who were staying in the room next to hers.

This is just one in a series of adventures that took place at the inaugural Arts Atlantic Symposium.

The weekend of Oct. 29, artists across Atlantic Canada travelled to Halifax to attend three days of panels, discussions and a contemporary arts festival at the inaugural Arts Atlantic Symposium. The symposium had “Looking Toward the Future” as its theme.

Ostroski described scenes of her evenings with new artist friends that involved dancing, discovering new restaurants and discussion.

She enjoyed the connections she made with other artists as the north of New Brunswick can sometimes be an “isolated place.”

“New Brunswick artists seem to be more of an abundance mindset — artists helping artists; supporting each other,” said Ostroksi. “New Brunswick is a very special place to be an artist because you have so much support within the province and within communities.”

Thandiwe McCarthy, a spoken word poet and writer and seventh-generation African Canadian, explained that a lot of his art is devoted to exploring his identity as a Black New Brunswicker. McCarthy founded the New Brunswick Black Artist Alliance. He and two other members of the alliance also attended the symposium.

“One of the best parts of this whole conference was just being able to host a safe space for artists of all walks of life,” said McCarthy.

“The real fun happened in between all the workshops and walking towards the performances and the panels and just meeting people in the elevator. This was like a business trip that turned into a vacation.”

McCarthy said that the symposium featured a panel that discussed “taking away that stigma of the starving artist and turning it into an actual career you can go into that’s respected and defined by the provincial government.”

He explained that out of the approximately 250 attendees, there were only four artists who represented the Black community. He said that this was especially an issue as many Black artists view collecting income for their art as a barrier.

McCarthy believes that other artists from global majorities could have benefited from hearing about how making income as an artist is a “realistic vision.”

McCarthy said that he had many good conversations with other artists across the Maritimes about how access to galleries, festivals and opportunities varies greatly across the region.

“It’s not just diversity of discipline or culture, but diversity of region is very important as well, because they do it much differently in P.E.I. and Nova Scotia and Newfoundland than they do here in New Brunswick,” said McCarthy.

The Canadian General Social Survey of 2016 explored how arts events of any kind are attended in each province. New Brunswick has the second lowest attendance rate, just before Newfoundland and Labrador. McCarthy said that this has a real impact on local artists across the province.

“When we put on a show or if we have a poetry reading, or if we have a gala exhibition for a visual artist, [fewer] people would come up to that show in New Brunswick than if we had it in Alberta,” said McCarthy.