News / Edmonton

Edmonton celebrates work of first Indigenous artist in residence

Dawn Marie Marchand says the opportunity broke down barriers for her as an artist

Dawn Marie Marchand, Edmonton's first Indigenous Artist in Residence, stands with her artwork.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Dawn Marie Marchand, Edmonton's first Indigenous Artist in Residence, stands with her artwork.

Edmonton’s first Indigenous artist in residence almost turned down the position.

Dawn Marie Marchand said she was “a little bit surprised” when it was offered to her in the summer of 2016, and felt her financial situation might stop her from fully participating.

“I asked them to give me a couple weeks to think about it. Because I knew I had poverty barriers that other artists might not have had,” Marchand said Wednesday.

The Cree/Metis visual artist and author ultimately chose to take the job, on the condition that the city provide her with three things she didn’t have: a bus pass, a cellphone and a computer.  

On Wednesday, the city unveiled an exhibition of the work she’s done over the last year at city hall as her tenure comes to a close.

“When your transportation is not secure, it limits what you can attend to, what you can do, where you can go. So that was really a major thing to me,” Marchand said. Not having a cellphone would cause her to miss opportunities and deadlines, she added.

And Marchand is far from being the only local artist held down by poverty.

When she curated the art for the first-ever National Gathering of Elders in September, she ran into many talented Indigenous artists facing similar struggles.

“They didn’t have access to computer, they didn’t have access to the Internet, or sometimes their cellphones weren’t working. In those cases I had to work with them to build their capacity to give them what they needed,” she said.

“It wasn’t that the artwork wasn’t good enough, it was just the access barrier.”

Marchand has used her time as artist in residence to draw attention to issues facing Indigenous communities, and to encourage all Edmontonians to understand the people, nations and information of Indigenous peoples in their own city.

Known for being outspoken on Twitter, Marchand said one of her favourite pieces from the past year is pwawatewin, or Heavy Burden – a five-by-13-foot collage made up of 9,178 tweets.

“I think it really speaks to the fact that, as an Indigenous artist, you spend just about as much time or more time trying to defend what you’re trying to do, than actually doing it,” she said.

Marchand said she’s enjoyed being artist in residence, but added with a laugh that she’s “kind of glad that it’s over.”

“It’s been a whirlwind. I’m grateful for every minute."

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