A new exhibition at the Penticton Art Gallery premiered last Saturday alongside the Ignite the Arts Festival to showcase a prominent group of Indigenous contemporary artists, even as the gallery struggles with a sudden loss of funding.
The three exhibitions of Indigenous Art Excellence are Levi Bent’s Rad on the Rez, Clayton Gauthier’s Sus Yoo The Bear’s Medicine, and a showcase from the National Indigenous Professional Artist Training Program (NIPAT) 20th Anniversary Exhibition.
“I just wish everyone in town could come down and just sort of look at the work, read the bios of the artists and just sort of get a sense, a little bit more of a window into contemporary indigenous culture. And everything else in this show is just such a beautiful celebration of that,” Penticton Art Gallery curator Paul Crawford said.
“All three of them together all work organically to tell a greater story.”
Crawford said the exhibit is trying to build bridges between the local Indigenous and Penticton communities, using art as a vehicle for greater cultural interaction and understanding.
“The whole idea about what Indigenous art is, it's a blessing and a curse. A lot of people equate Indigenous art to Northwest Coastal art,” he added. “They had that luxury to build totem poles, large scale works of art, whereas a lot of these other nations, they put their art into things like baskets and into weaving and into various other art forms that I think often get overshadowed greatly.”
The three separate exhibits will hopefully give a broader view of what contemporary Indigenous art really is.
“It [also] doesn't always need to be put into a cultural silo. I think the work here that has been done by these individuals, is equal to any other art by any other contemporary artist.”
Crawford said he wanted to launch the exhibition alongside the festival as a way to make it the main focus.
“We're about the experience and bringing people together for a commonly shared journey that's going to enrich every one of us.”
The hope is for the event to inspire more people to interact with one another, connect over art and discuss the features that are being presented around the festival.
“I think things like the gallery, and shows like this are vital to making that all happen and fundamental to so much more in our community than just a building and a bunch of pictures on a wall.”
This year’s Ignite the Arts faced a bit of a hiccup when the announcement from city council came that the gallery's operating grant for 2023 was being slashed by more than 50 per cent a week before the festival's opening.
“The hardest part for that was no notice,” Crawford said. “While you're a quarter of the way through your fiscal year, I think it was a bit unfortunate that they didn't at least give us a heads up that I could have cut back on the festival or I could have made different plans for the exhibitions and things like that.”
“Every year when I've submitted my budget to city council, in good times and bad, we've asked for X amount of money based upon the projected financial need of the year, [and] city staff has always recommended a number much, much lower. But we've had a city council rep that came to board meetings, would ask questions, and we'll be able to report back to council and sort of act as our advocate right and, and get an understanding what we're doing.”
Penticton council approved four select committees at the end of February, eliminating the Museum Advisory Committee.
“So there's nobody there that can act on our behalf, or could maybe address something at the council table.”
While Crawford said it may not appear that the gallery needs as much cash because it posted a surplus last year, the situation is far different than that.
“We have leasehold improvements on the building here, we've got to replace windows, we got things that need to be done here that we need to save money for. And so if we're not having a surplus, how are we going to pay for those things?” he added.
"Every gallery in North America budgets and plans two to three years in advance for exhibitions ... and you [have] to spend the money upfront, it's like the festival, they told me a week out from the festival, that they're going to reduce my funding. But I've already spent that money, I had to book all the rooms, the hotels and pay for the transportation and pay their food."
Crawford hopes to express the importance of the gallery to the community, the culture of the city and the economic benefits it adds when he presents to city council on Monday.
Mayor Julius Bloomfield announced last Friday that a delegation from the Penticton Art Gallery will be speaking to council as an opportunity for the gallery to update documentation and for council to ask detailed questions before any changes – which could impact the budget – are made official.