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Prince George needs Indigenous arts hub

This week's column talks about how Prince George needs an Indigenous arts hub which would benefit downtown Prince George.
Angelique Levac is seen here at her shop on George street in 2015. Angelique's Native Arts is now located on Dominion Street.

Last week on my 93.1 CFIS community radio show Local Matters I co-host with Nicole Fraser, I had a great conversation with Angelique Merasty Levac of Angelique’s Native Arts on Dominion Street and her friend, artist Shirley Babcock.

Angelique is a Cree artist from Manitoba who practices the traditional art of birch bark biting. Her work is in private collections around the world including in that of the late John Candy. Shirley was born in Williams Lake and practices art here in town.

Prince George is lucky to have these amazing women.

We talked about Angelique’s book and her life and the incredible journey from growing up in the wilds of Manitoba and living off the land, speaking Cree until she was 15, to her life as an artist and entrepreneur. If you get the chance, check out her shop and gallery and learn about her story.

One of the things we talked about was how to support and grow the Native Arts scene in Prince George.

This was something I talked a bit about during the last civic election.   

In many other communities Indigenous art, culture, and technology gets a lot more love than it does in our community.  This is particularly apparent when you travel to the Yukon.

With a population half the size of Prince George’s, the Yukon runs rings around us in promoting and showcasing Native Art and culture.

The Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association, a “non-profit, stakeholder-based organization that is committed to growing and promoting vibrant and sustainable arts/culture and tourism sectors”, has a wonderful website with links to 17 locations where people can support Native arts.  It seems like every little community has a place that celebrates Native arts.

We do have a Northern Indigenous Arts Council through Studio 2880, and of course Angelique’s Native Arts, but it seems like we could be doing more to promote this sector here in town.

One thing that we could do to support this sector is getting more accessible workspaces happening. 

Every time I drive by the boarded up Northern Hardware I see a huge opportunity in this regard.  We could get some woodworking equipment set up in the basement and get some accessible studio space happening.  Weaving, beading, carving, textiles, leatherwork, metalwork, and language, art, ecology and foraging classrooms could all be part of this.  A flexible gallery space could be the storefront.  

Imagine walking in there and seeing Canoes on strongbacks, paddles, snowshoes, clothing, birchbark baskets and backpacks, drums, and other traditional technologies being produced.  Obviously carvers would have some space to let those woodchips fly. Can’t find any high quality carving knives anymore?  No problem, let’s get knife and tool-making workshops happening.  Let’s get people learning how to forge, grind, and sharpen steel, basic skills we need to nurture and maintain.

And what a great homage to the legacy of the Northern Hardware that would be.    

I think the key is this would be accessible to all, and a good model might be the South Fort George Community Centre where you have the Aboriginal Business Development Centre running canning and food processing workshops alongside non-Indigenous groups. 

I got my start woodworking in a building full of art and artisan studios down in Vancouver, and so did a lot of other people.

Done right it could be a boon to Indigenous art, technology, and culture, along with our city and downtown.