Patricia Mader - Culture Days Youth Arts Apprenticeship Program Curator
Patricia Mader is a multi-disciplinary artist, curator and community arts mover n’ shaker. She currently works with 4elements Living Arts on Manitoulin Island, an organization founded by Sophie Edwards, Executive Director. Mader moved to Manitoulin Island just over two and a half years ago and never looked back. Her work explores the body, identity and community, placed within the context of the rural landscape. She investigates culturally or psychologically significant phenomena found in nature, and the assigned value systems we impose upon them. She uses her practice as a method of research, taking a process-based, time intensive approach. Her work is interdisciplinary in nature pulling inward from knowledge bases in geography, psychology, and biology. She exhibits in unconventional spaces, utilizing strategies found in the land-art, community engaged, installation and drawing oeuvres.
Manitoulin Island: Lots of people have heard of it; ‘Yeah, that’s where that big Country Fest is, right?’ or ‘I’ve heard of that place. My uncle goes there every year to hunt’. These are common reflections when you ask mainlanders what they know of ‘the Island’.
Fewer realize that it is home to six First Nations territories (including Wikwemikong which is unceded), that there is a history of settlement by the Odawaa, Ojibwe and Pottawatomi dating back as far as 10,000 years or more, and that the Island is increasingly becoming known as a cultural destination; connections between land-art-community-and culture are being explored, and a rich ecosystem of cultural and linguistic revitalization exists.
4elements Living Arts (4e) is a non-profit community arts organization in Kagawong | Gaagegiwang, one of the many small townships that string together, one after the other, to create the Island. The organization was founded 15 years ago by Sophie Edwards, an artist, writer, geographer and community advocate. I began working with 4e just over 2.5 years ago as a Curator and Project Coordinator. In those years, I have learned a lot about the particular intricacies of trying to manage, invigorate and curate for a rural non-profit cultural organization.
Kagawong | Gaagegiwang a village in Billings, a township of just over 600 year-round residents, marks the beginning of the Island’s west end. The Kagawong River flows from Lake Kagawong, tips over the limestone cliff at Bridal Veil Falls, and eventually empties out into Mudge Bay in the heart of our village.
As one of the Ontario Culture Days Youth Arts Ambassadors this year, I have taken the lead on putting together Elemental Festival - a three-day community-focused celebration of the arts. Everything we do at 4elements is oriented toward the land. We want to encourage our community to engage with contemporary culture in unique ways and to question relationships to each-other and to the land. We want people to reconnect, and we want to challenge ingrained mind-sets about where contemporary art typically happens, and who is entitled to it. The whole festival started from the desire to give our community an opportunity to interact with contemporary art and the land in different ways.
For this year’s festival, we invited artists to consider questions of land and land-use history. We were particularly interested in the relations between the land, environmental change, and reconciliation given the impact of settlement, forestry, farming, and Treaty history, on Manitoulin Island. How has colonization shaped how we understand the land? What are relations between environmental issues and Treaties?
We approach it more like a gathering than a festival, really. It’s meant to be a place where local residents can create alongside other visiting creatives. We will have a café running all weekend where artists and locals can grab a bite, and chat; we have a music series with Moe Clark, Melody McKiver and Nick Sherman; we have artist ‘walk n talks’ which will give community members a chance to go on walking tours with visiting artists; we have loads of workshops to participate including one on experimental landscape painting.
The Festival this year is also the culminating event of a larger ongoing project that we’ve been developing over the last three years. At Elemental Festival, we will unveil the new Billings Connections Trail: Nature. Art. Heritage. The trail project represents an 18-month commitment from community members, represented by four community partners: Billings Township, Old Mill Heritage Center Committee, Billings Recreation Committee, and 4e leading the project to collaboratively create an arts and heritage route in the township. The trail consists of 7 new permanent public sculptures and 35 heritage plaques, as well as a yearlong series of community engagements including history talks, film screenings, and two community festivals. The trail attempts to integrate the local heritage and history of Anishinaabeg and non-Indigenous residents and represents the Township’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commision (2015) “Calls to Action” for public education that integrates indigenous history into municipal programs.
From left to right: Kathryn Corbiere's Nbiishimtig, Water Trees; Robert Cram's Whitetail Deer; KWEST's Intersection; Ted Fullerton's Ascend/Transcend
Although Kagawong is now predominantly a settler village, it was once inhabited by many Anishinaabeg residents who have since been displaced.
Six of the seven sculptures were selected via an extensive community process. Ours is a very engaged community. We didn’t want to plunk a series of sculptures into the local landscape that had been selected by an anonymous jury with no investment in the community, so we pulled together a jury made up of community members from Billings Township. They discussed the applications for many days and, after much debate, a series of artists were short-listed. 4elements hosted 2 community input nights where anyone in the community could vote on their favourite designs, site locations, and generally give feedback. We then interviewed every artist on the short-list before meeting again as a jury to make the final selections, after which all the sites and designs went before the Town Council for debate and final approval. Each selected artist did multiple site visits to ‘meet n greet’ the community and worked with community members to make sure they had a good sense of the place before submitting their final designs.
The seventh and final sculpture is in the process of being collaboratively designed by community members. Jake Chakisim (Cree), a lecturer at McKewan School of architecture, is leading a group of high school students through two design charrettes as part of the process and the final sculpture will be completed next year with its home at Manitoulin Secondary School.
This year’s festival was a particularly difficult one to put together. We are not a First Nations organization, but you can’t talk about the land and historical land-use without having conversations about reconciliation. It is a difficult line to walk, to facilitate these conversations, and encourage collaboration between local government, local organizations, and community members from settler and First Nations communities. How do you do that effectively and respectfully? Where do you even start? How do you get people from point A to point B, when everyone’s point A and point B looks different? It is a constant negotiation and renegotiation of roles and responsibilities. There is no rule book, and we have been feeling our way, making lots of mistakes and learning together along the road.
But, next week, we gather to celebrate having made it this far - and, hopefully, to continue the important conversations we’ve begun to have. Local and visiting artists, musicians, writers and filmmakers will descend upon Kagawong to help unveil the Billings Connections Trail and to make some awesome art happen over the Culture Days weekend.
For a full line-up of events and to get to know the artists, check out our festival booklet: https://issuu.com/4elementslivingarts/docs/elemental_festival_booklet_2017_fin
Hooman Mehdizadehjafari's The Globe
Curator’s picks: Top Five things to see at this year’s Elemental Festival - all for free
- The Billings Connections Trail Official Unveiling
Come meet the artists who have just installed permanent public sculptures on the Billings Connections Trail as they take you on a walking tour to the new works and talk about their process. Sat Sep 30 and Sun Oct 1 | 1-3pm. Meet at the Park Centre 12:45 to catch the shuttle and dress for the weather.
- Walk the Bridal Veil falls trail and watch the Salmon run.
This time of year, the salmon spawning begins in the Kagawong River. Visit the beloved falls, then walk the trail down to Mudge Bay and keep an eye out for some of the salmon that may have started their run up the river. Check out some of the newly installed sculptures along the way, including a granite triptych by Michael Belmore.
- Elemental Festival music series featuring Moe Clark, Melody McKiver and Nick Sherman
This year we have a lineup of three amazing headlining performers. Moe Clark opens the festival on Friday evening with a free family-friendly performance starting at 8 pm. The music series continues on Saturday with back-to-back performances by Melody McKiver 5:30 pm and Nick Sherman 8 pm. These performances are not to be missed.
- Drum Circle Workshop with Veronica Johnny
Veronica Johnny is an Indigenous artist, musician and traditional hand drummer facilitating workshops encompassing music, performance, self-esteem and cultural teachings. Join her on Saturday morning for a Drum Circle Teaching. Park Centre | 9 am
- Planting Stories, Feeding Communities: Knowledge, Indigenous Peoples, and Film
Screening and artist talk with Paul Chaput. Sunday at 4 pm | free, Park Centre - for more about the film and Chaput, go here: http://www.plantingstories.ca/about-film
We also have a community art project going on throughout the whole weekend. Community members will have the opportunity to respond in a creative way to the curatorial theme and a series of questions about the connection between land, identity, historical land-use and how that relates to reconciliation. All of the responses will contribute to a large outdoor fibre art work. Framed in embroidery hoops, the responses will be hung in an outdoor exhibition along the Kagawong River trail.
I will be writing a blog post following the event reflecting on my experiences with the Festival and as a Youth Arts Ambassador. Stay tuned to hear more!
Thank you to all the funders, sponsors and community supporters who helped make this year’s Culture Days event happen!
The Youth Arts Ambassadors Program is generously supported by TD Bank Group.
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