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New hires at Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design will support Indigenous artists and crafters

The Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design in downtown Sydney is looking to diversify its membership with the help of two new hires says executive director Lori Burke, who is standing next to a large piece of traditional Mi'kmaq basketry woven with birch and sweet grass by artist Margaret Johnson. ARDELLE REYNOLDS • SALTWIRE NETWORK
The Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design in downtown Sydney is looking to diversify its membership with the help of two new hires says executive director Lori Burke, who is standing next to a large piece of traditional Mi'kmaq basketry woven with birch and sweet grass by artist Margaret Johnson. ARDELLE REYNOLDS • SALTWIRE NETWORK
SYDNEY, N.S. —

The Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design is hoping to attract a broader, more diverse swath of the island's artists and crafters with the help of two newly created positions.

Executive director Lori Burke says a survey of the centre's membership last year showed that it did not truly reflect the peoples and cultures of Cape Breton or its craft sector.

With this in mind, in the winter of 2020, the centre hired an Indigenous facilitator, and through roundtable discussions and focus groups in First Nations communities, identified what artists and makers needed and wanted to support the growth of their artistic practices and creative businesses.

Around the same time, the Cape Breton Partnership conducted a study looking at barriers for female Indigenous entrepreneurs and found that 52 per cent of participants identified art and crafts as the sort of creative business they would like to pursue.

Nancy Oakley lives in Eskasoni First Nation and uses traditional pottery techniques and materials, such as sweet grass, in her art. Her work is available at the Centre for Craft and Design in Sydney. She says the centre has helped her make a living doing what she loves. ARDELLE REYNOLDS • SALTWIRE NETWORK
Nancy Oakley lives in Eskasoni First Nation and uses traditional pottery techniques and materials, such as sweet grass, in her art. Her work is available at the Centre for Craft and Design in Sydney. She says the centre has helped her make a living doing what she loves. ARDELLE REYNOLDS • SALTWIRE NETWORK

 

From this feedback, Burke said the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design has created two new positions.

The Indigenous arts co-ordinator will be tasked with developing more Indigenous-focused programming at the downtown Sydney centre to support Mi'kmaq makers. Burke says that programming may take the shape of exhibitions, workshops and educational programs to help the general public engage with traditional and contemporary Mi’kmaq art and craft.

The second position, Indigenous craft development co-ordinator, will help artists with business skills such as developing business plans, building a website, social media training and setting up e-commerce.

“It’s always the big questions for any artist, how do I make this a viable business and what are the steps to do that, so that person will act as a business navigator to help guide the artists through developing a business plan, pricing, knowing what markets to go into,” said Burke.

Nancy Oakley is an artist based in Eskasoni First Nation. She makes pottery using traditional techniques and materials, such as sweet grass and seaweed. She’s been a member of the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design for more than 20 years.

As a mother of six children, her art hasn’t just been a creative outlet, but also a way to put food on the table.

Potter Nancy Oakley is one of the few Indigenous artists whose work is available at the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design. ARDELLE REYNOLDS • SALTWIRE NETWORK
Potter Nancy Oakley is one of the few Indigenous artists whose work is available at the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design. ARDELLE REYNOLDS • SALTWIRE NETWORK

 

She says the centre has helped her with business skills and finding funding, including two years ago when she wanted to work with a world-renowned traditional native potter in Oklahoma. Oakley says the centre helped her obtain a grant to pay for the trip.

“It was life-changing, it really was. It took my art in a whole different direction, which was really awesome.”

Oakley says she’s always encouraging other Indigenous artists to get involved with the centre, but she thinks some may be reluctant because traditional First Nations crafts and art have not been valued in society for so many years.

“When it’s a tradition that’s passed down from family to family, from your grandmother or mother, I think sometimes people might feel like that’s not legitimate artwork, but they’re masters at what they do … I think it’s changing though and people are starting to realize how valued their knowledge and artwork is, not just in native society, but in the art world and just society in general.”

Burke says her goal is to expand the craft sector by building meaningful relationships with the First Nations communities and crafters, and by creating a space that makes everyone feel welcome.

The deadline to apply for both positions is March 19. For more information, visit the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design’s website at: www.capebretoncraft.com.

Ardelle Reynolds is an Indigenous affairs reporter with the Cape Breton Post. 

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