Arts Commons has been an amazing supporter of ICAI and IAMP from the initial planning days till today. Can you share what that experience has been for you, supporting the program?
Sanja: ICAI’s very first event took place in the Arts Learning Centre at Arts Commons, so Josh and I have been involved with ICAI since basically that first gathering. That was back in January 2020, one of our last big hurrahs before everything shut down. But ICAI has always been on a high up and onwards, even through the pandemic things just didn’t stop - they’re a force. That first gathering was so beautiful and it was very obvious from the beginning that there is something very special but also something very necessary happening here that was missing in the community.
One of the first conversations I had with Toyin, there was a lot of gratitude as I was remembering moving to Canada and how much of a difference this would have made for my family having this resource. It was wonderful to see how she took it upon herself to commit to doing this really hard work. She’s such a great leader and has great focus and direction, creating a more clear path into the arts ecosystem. That is at the heart of it. What ICAI is doing now has so many possibilities helping so many people. So many people could have benefited from this organization in the past and we are just so lucky to have it now because of the magic of Toyin. It is creating these pathways for new people coming into Canada so that they can continue where they’ve left off in their artistic practice.
It’s been wonderful to see that time and time again and meet all the artists who are experiencing that first hand. It's just really powerful and very unique to the city so we’re just incredibly lucky to all work together towards that same common goal. It’s been amazing to see the amount of support but most importantly the amount of artists that the program had a really positive impact on.
Sanja - you saw and exhibited works from cohort 1 and 2, could you share your thoughts about the artists, their professionalism and their works?
Sanja: My work here is leading the RBC Emerging Artist Visual Program, which is a mentorship program of visual media artists. How we’ve been able to work together from the Arts Commons side of things with the development of IAMP is seeing the impact of mentorship first hand, it felt like a natural direction and next step for ICAI to take as well. That program development was really essential and it can be so hard trying to pick 10 artists out of every candidate. Each of them are worthy for this opportunity, so it's definitely something that is going to continue. Toyin is a really interesting artist herself in her discipline. She does a lot of different types of work and understands the artist’s journey first hand.
That very first cohort that graduated, we offered to partner up and offer their first exhibition opportunity in Canada, so we featured their work last year, as a 6 month installation and each of the visual artists that came out of the first group/cohort, had a dedicated gallery space to feature their work. They worked very closely with their mentors to conceptualize the work, install and overall it was a really wonderful experience. Finding the most suitable mentors is a key factor. There are a lot of different factors in how it all works but the matches are always so beautiful.
In regards to professionalism everyone was beyond prepared and really put a lot of thought into it. The group of artists were extremely dedicated and the variety of work was great to see as well.
Our next exhibition follows the same - we have 10 artists coming up from February until May. Each of them will also have a dedicated space to showcase their artwork and will continue on that journey with us and that partnership.
We have a real and unique opportunity here at Arts Commons because we have dedicated visual arts spaces. We have the incredible opportunity to tell artist’s stories in public and that is very essential to how we partner and select the work. It requires a lot of trust, which I’ll never take for granted and to be able to present someone else’s story.
Josh - You facilitated sessions for both IAMP 1 and 2, what are your thoughts on the topics being treated especially as it affects professional practices?
Josh: For me, the purpose of these artist development programs, as it absolutely fits within our values of the organization, but ultimately we are very interested in having the healthiest and most robust artistic ecosystem that there can be. As a performance arts centre, we live at the intersection of audiences and artists - and so we need to have a healthy artistic community if we want to have a healthy ecosystem and society. Art is the tool that we have as a species for us to be able to understand one another and it is highly important right now.
A lot of the artists within the Immigrant Artist Mentorship Program really embody this. People are moving more and more around the world for lots of different reasons and if we are going to live together, we need to be able to understand one another on a deeper level.
It is artists like these that are going to be able to tell the story of what it means to move to a new place, and what it's like to see the world through a completely different lens and have a completely different context.
These development programs answer the questions of how do you operate as an artist within this context and this specific ecosystem. Having one’s art practice in one part of the world and the work might translate here but the function of how to operate within a new environment may not. The arts ecosystem in Canada operates differently even compared to a place that might seem familiar. With the artist development program, we are hoping to pull the curtain back and show this is how this particular machine works right now. In order for us to enact the change, we need to be able to understand what the current state is first.
We know that it's important for the artists in these programs to intersect with these audiences and the audience needs to meet them - which becomes a push and pull, where the artists can have their work in exhibition, and be able to demonstrate in real time what it's like to do that kind of work in this particular context. Arts Commons isn’t necessarily like other arts organizations. Within the performing arts centers, what sets us apart is unlike other organization, we have other organizations that rely on us - the resident companies, these organizations require us to operate in an effective way and vice versa. We are a collaborator in a broader artistic environment. We are working together to be able to utilize the venues in the best way that we possibly can. Within the context of performance arts centers, we are also presenters of work and have our own programming department.
The living embodiment of the vision, mission and spirit answers the questions of how and why this, why there and now. We are functioning as a multi venue arts performing centre and with the programming department which is the tool and investment in the broader artistic community and the intersection of things. The more that things can overlap, the stronger a particular program can be, the stronger relationships can be and will continuing to thrive.
What other opportunities do you think newcomers and immigrants should look for in Calgary?
Josh: One of the pieces of the Artist Development Program is networking. Simply put, the entire purpose of these networking events is to connect artists with one another and to be able to connect as many connections for them as possible. The research and the development and creation of that product that you’re going to sell as an artist is reliant upon many different things. You need different eyes and different connections to different people in order to see it in other ways. You need collaborators.
Functionally, this process does need a community. Art can only happen at the intersection of the artist and the audience. There is something fundamental that happens in that exchange. You transition, transform from the artist to the viewer and in that viewing is where it becomes art.I want artists to be aware of the importance of this and see the beauty of the conversation that happens in between the artist, art, and the audience. It's about the connection between humans and that is why I say the opportunity is to connect with humans. That is the most important thing.
How do you think this program should be supported by other arts organizations in Calgary and even the government?
Sanja: It depends on the audience and the reach, on people showing up and being present. So we encourage people to come to the events, share the calls for submissions, be present in those rooms, hear what the artists are saying first hand and learn about how they can start a collaborative partnership to learn about how they can help fuel ICAI’s mission. Having those conversations and mostly those conversations would be beneficial if they led to paid opportunities for artists and extending employment opportunities to the roster of artists that has been gathered by ICAI. Sharing resources, sharing their spaces, training opportunities - just sharing with more possibilities that can be created and extended. Looking to ICAI for really talented immigrant artists and professionals with many skills that are a huge asset.
Getting them into spaces that can help their journey here and recognizing ICAI and its unique role in the community, recognizing who their audience is and moving it forward. If you look at the growth and the necessity of an organization like ICAI, you can translate that onto a personal level. Your contribution to that artistic ecosystem isn’t just wanted - it's needed.
Sanja: Visual and Media Arts Curator
Josh: Associate Director of social impact at Arts Commons
ICAI Community Spotlight highlights interviews with icons of Calgary’s Cultural arts community and gets personal on their journey, story, big mistakes, career goals, and other aspects.