Mentorship Provides Opportunity to Share Métis Culture

By: Andréa Ledding November, 2020

Connecting and learning has created challenges for many this past year, but for one young artist, it brought an opportunity to showcase learnings from an exciting mentorship. This past year, emerging Métis artist and educator Danielle Castle had the opportunity to be mentored by Leah Marie Dorion, a well­known and established Métis artist and Knowledge ­Keeper.

In 2019, the Mann Art Gallery (MAG) in Prince Albert launched an ongoing Artists­in­Residence workshop series designed to share artistic practices and cultural knowledge.  By working together, Dorion and Castle created temporary art installations around Prince Albert that could be enjoyed by the community.  When the pandemic impacted in­person programming, these art installations provided an ideal means for the public to enjoy the work while social distancing.

“It was our way of connecting with community in a safe way, and we were able to share the Métis culture,” says Dorion, adding they put up perimeters so people could come and watch all five installations in public places. “People were so happy to see art going up in the community, it was in all outdoor venues so it was safe, it was phenomenal and it was fun.”  The project followed Government of Saskatchewan restrictions on physical distancing and health precautions.

They engaged people via social media doing live updates. “With COVID­19, word of mouth doesn’t work — everything is online,” says Castle, adding that using more online communication created a big learning curve. “It was always a goal of the Gallery and now it’s been accomplished. People would post comments, people would send update reports, and some of these installations were up for six weeks. We were still able to communicate closely with the community and members in a safe manner.”

They even had people from other cities and across the province taking part in the online discussion and social media updates. They noted that it had a positive and inspirational impact on the community. 

“Just the feedback we got — this makes things so beautiful, the buffalo running by the riverbank for example,” she says of the art installation of a herd of buffalo at the riverbank, which was painted in part by newcomer children in a YWCA summer camp program. “The newcomer children could experience culture, learn words, paint, and have their art work shown to the public — it was a really positive impactful workshop.”

Their final installation took place in October alongside a planned painting of buffalo for Culture Days. A few more workshops will be held before closing the mentorship.

“I just wanted to see Danielle grow and share her gifts and be witness to it,” says Dorion of the mentorship, adding she became especially proficient in media interviews as they progressed. “Her description of projects just got stronger and stronger. It’s a modelling. We had a relationship of mentorship that we modelled and then we showed the community how to do that as artists.”

They both noted that they worked well together.

“She could unblock me when I was blocked and vice versa, and we could take over one for the other to continually get things done,” notes Castle, adding that this made them very productive when working with the public. “This is a good way to show even with the most humble materials you can just go out and do it.  “That was a highlight,” agrees Dorion. “We took the most basic art materials ­ like we were in kindergarten and made art — people said, ‘I’m going to go home and make this.’ They watched and learned.  We did that for the community and are happy about that.”  

This project received support through SaskCulture's Aboriginal Arts and Culture Leadership Grant, with funding from Sask Lotteries.