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News / November 20, 2018

Indigenous Contemporary Art is Focus of New Edmonton Centre

The collective-run Ociciwan Contemporary Art Centre will open downtown in late summer of 2019
A rendering of the new Ociciwan Contemporary Art Centre, due to open in downtown Edmonton in summer 2019. A rendering of the new Ociciwan Contemporary Art Centre, due to open in downtown Edmonton in summer 2019.

Three years ago, Ociciwan Contemporary Art Collective started up to create exhibitions and programs supporting Indigenous art in the Edmonton region. But the group didn’t have a dedicated space. So it partnered with a variety of local arts organizations instead, like Latitude 53, dc3 Art Projects and the Art Gallery of Alberta, to realize its projects.

But soon, Ociciwan will have its own home. On Friday, it was announced that the Ociciwan Contemporary Art Centre will open in late summer 2019 at 9604 101a Avenue in downtown Edmonton. Designed with the City of Edmonton and Rockliff Pierzchajlo Kroman Architects, the centre will include a main-floor gallery, a community space, a resource library, meeting rooms, and more. It will be retrofitted from an existing 6,945-square-foot, municipally owned, two-storey building built in 1962, with Ociciwan holding the long-term lease on the space.

“We have been able to build the structure to our needs, which is really incredible,” core member Becca Taylor tells Canadian Art over the phone. For instance, Ociciwan prioritized that the resulting three-storey building be entirely accessible, so everyone can visit the media presentation centre in the basement, and the top-floor community space, among other resources. Also: “We are able to put a kitchen in there, because food is a huge part of our practice, whether hosting artists from out of town or inviting in the community.”

Ociciwan’s collective members, who are still mostly volunteers and who have for three years been working at their own kitchen tables, are taking a slow and steady approach to building programming in the new centre. Though Ociciwan always envisioned having a space of its own, Taylor says, members don’t want to rush or grow too quickly.

“To begin, it will operate similarly to how we proceed now, with four exhibitions a year, and some other programming,” says Taylor. “We hope to start that way and build capacity in the years to come.”

Taylor credits a strong Indigenous art scene in the area for Ociciwan’s inception, as well as its continued motivation and momentum. “We wanted to support the artists who are working here and engaging in this already incredible discussion happening here,” Taylor says. She lists Faye Heavyshield, Brittney Bear Hat and Jessie Short as just a few examples of artists making a difference throughout the land now called Alberta.

In terms of logistics, support from the City of Edmonton and the federal government helped the centre’s plans move forward. “Edmonton is putting a lot of investment into the arts right now,” Taylor notes. As part of a 20-year plan to renew the Quarters neighbourhood, where the new centre will be located, the City is repurposing municipally owned buildings specifically for not-for-profit arts organizations. The Canada Cultural Spaces Fund is putting $750,000 toward the Ociciwan Centre, and another $750,000 toward another building retrofit nearby for Quarters Arts Society.

This fall, Ociciwan created an exhibition of Alberta-based artists for ImagineNATIVE in Toronto, and also held an Edmonton launch for a vinyl box set of operatic scores honouring “three Indigenous women from the land now called Alberta, composed by Postcommodity and Alex Waterman.” Eventually, the dream is for even more local-global connections.

“We are small and we are going to grow slowly,” Taylor says. But one day, she hopes, “we will be able to support this conversation on a global level.”

This article was corrected on November 20, 2018. The centre will be on 101a Avenue, not 101a Street, and Becca Taylor is a core member, rather than a collective member, of Ociciwan.

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is a writer and editor of white settler Canadian (Irish and Ashkenazi) descent. She is also news and special sections editor at Canadian Art and has written for the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications. Sandals welcomes tips, corrections and comments anytime at leah@canadianart.ca.