Radio — Decolonizing the arts in Canada

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh interviews Clayton Windatt. He is, in his own words, a “Metis non-status Indian,” and he lives in Sturgeon Falls in northern Ontario. He is the executive director of an organization called the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective (ACC). Their members are Indigenous curators and artists – generally those whose focus is contemporary art – from across Canada, and to an extent in the United States, and their mandate is both to support Indigenous curators and artists and to advocate for decolonial change within institutions and in the broader policy environment in the arts sector.

One of the many ways that settler colonialism has shaped life on this continent is by shaping how we are able to see and understand the world. Settler institutions have historically denied Indigenous people the power to push mainstream stories, images, art, and cultural production more broadly to reflect Indigenous understandings of themselves and of the world, while simultaneously working very hard to deny Indigenous people the space for making and circulating their own stories, images, art, and so on. This power over knowledge and narrative is part of how settler colonialism justifies and sustains itself, and challenging that power is crucial to broader efforts seeking decolonization. One way to think of the work of the ACC, therefore, is that it helps to create space for art created and curated by Indigenous people and therefore for the understandings of the world that such art carries.

In the dominant usage, curators are people who manage or oversee a collection or exhibition of art, often in the context of a museum or a gallery. Clayton understands the term more loosely, to also include people who initiate and facilitate a wide range of artistic and cultural endeavours, including those that are very community-based.

The ACC was founded in 2005 in response to a longstanding recognition that there are many mainstream institutions in Canada that have large collections of Indigenous artifacts and art, but that have no Indigenous people on their governing bodies, no Indigenous staff, and inadequate policies and practices in place to ensure that they work with those collections in ways that respect the protocols of the nation on whose land they sit and that reflect Indigenous understandings of the artifacts and art in question.

The collective was originally an entirely volunteer enterprise, but currently has three staff people. There are a number of different facet to their work. They facilitate community processes within Indigenous arts contexts. They have a training program for emerging Indigenous curators. They do one-on-one work with mainstream arts institutions – sometimes at the request of those institutions, sometimes in response to an incident or crisis. Their focus is pushing those institutions to involve more Indigenous people in governance or as staff, to build respectful relationships with local Indigenous communities, and to develop appropriate policies around curating Indigenous art. And they also intervene in the broader arts policy context in the country, both behind the scenes as part of consultative processes and in more public ways, to build space for Indigenous artists and curators, and thereby for Indigenous ways of seeing and knowing and representing the world.

Image: Used with permission of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective.

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Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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