Mawi’ Art and New Brunswick Arts board sign agreement to collaborate with Indigenous artists

Mawi’ Art started as a project-based Indigenous organization, writing grant proposals for Indigenous artists. (Submitted/ArtsNB)

Mawi’ Art signed an agreement with the New Brunswick Arts Board to increase collaboration with Indigenous artists and provide opportunities like workshops and grants.

Mawi’ Art: Wabanaki Artist Collective started as a project-based Indigenous organization, writing grant proposals for Indigenous artists. They were founded in 2013 and incorporated in 2016.

One of the tasks Mawi’ will take on is running Petapen, the bi-annual gathering of around
150 Indigenous artists in Atlantic Canada. Shawn Dalton, acting-executive director of Mawi’ Art, said the arts boards thinks there’s a need to support Indigenous artists. Now, with Mawi’ Art, that role is filled.

“[They said] there isn’t an organization that emerged from the Indigenous community to fill that need,” said Dalton. “We’ve matured far enough as an organization that we felt comfortable taking on the role of organizing Petapen.”

Dalton said this agreement is a way to formalize the collaboration between Mawi’ Art and the N.B. arts board.

The COVID-19 pandemic hurt businesses and events, but Dalton said they weren’t hit dramatically by it because they transitioned from a project-based organization to a program-based organization.

“We didn’t have a whole bunch of events planned we didn’t have to re-group on,” said Dalton.

Dalton said one of the biggest problems for emerging and Indigenous artists is mentorship. One of the things Mawi’ Art did last year to help was a 12-week training and entrepreneurship program. The program had a 100 per cent completion rate where 24 people learned skills like beading, quilt-work and paddle-carving. They also learned other skills to promote their work like photography and web-design before the program came to an end.

“Mentorship is a huge issue. It comes up in every meeting,” said Dalton. “Now we got these artists that are like ‘that was fun. Now what do we do?’”

Arts NB executive director Joss Richer said it’s now up to somebody else to organize Petapen. (Submitted/Joss Richer)

Joss Richer has been the executive director of Arts NB for four years. He said each province’s arts boards in Atlantic Canada organized Petapen and it’s now up to somebody else to organize the event.

“It’s up to somebody else to do it, and preferably it would be nice if there was an Indigenous organization [that] would take it over,” said Richer. “Mawi’ Art stepped up to the plate.”

One aspect of Arts NB collaborating with Indigenous artists is going to Indigenous communities and working with artists. That’s where Corrina Merasty comes in. She’s the Indigenous outreach officer for Arts NB and travels to Indigenous communities to work with artists.

Merasty is also an interdisciplinary artist, working in music, film and painting. She said that her wide background and interest in art helps her with her role.

“My role is to engage, boots on the ground … I can’t be behind a desk,” said Merasty. “If you’re an artist yourself, you have a better understanding.”

While some work a typical nine-to-five job, Merasty said she doesn’t stop. She said that she tells the artists she works with to call her anytime, even at night.

“I’m pretty much 24-7. Like I work all weekend, all evening or all day,” said Merasty. “It doesn’t feel like a job. It feels like my work is my personal life and my personal life is my work.”

Richer said it would be good if there was an organization that advocated on behalf of Indigenous Peoples given that there’s already strong advocacy from Francophone and Anglophone artists in New Brunswick. He said Arts NB has always had a good relationship with Indigenous Peoples and put out programs before, including the Equinox program, which provides support for Indigenous artists in the province.

“New partnership with Mawi’ Art is basically the next step in this evolution,” said Richer.