Dan Cardinal McCartney
Co-Artistic Director, Stride Gallery
Dan Cardinal McCartney (hey/they) is an interdisciplinary artist and emerging curator who holds a degree from AUArts (2016) in Drawing. Most importantly, they are a full-time caregiver for their sister, Karri. Dan is of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations with family ties of Mikisew Cree, Metis, and mixed settler lines from Treaty 8 territory, specifically Fort Chipewyan. He is a foster care survivor raised in the northern boreal region of Fort McMurray.
As a Two Spirit transgender artist, Dan sifts through patterns of intergenerational trauma and troubles the colonial narrative of hyper individuality. He relates his personal, ongoing reconnection with his family to his yearning for gender euphoria through storytelling. Dan focuses on mixed media collage, painting, moving images, and performance. Currently, they are the Assistant Director at Stride Gallery in so-called Calgary, AB.
What might you want to share with the audience about your background and your practice?
I’ve been a full-time Co-Artistic Director at Stride Gallery for the past almost three years. And I’m also a full-time artist, so juggling both keeps things interesting. If someone has figured it out, they can let me know!
I am Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations and also Métis and Mikisew Cree. It’s busy but I’ve been in Calgary, Moh'kinsstis for 13 years, so it's been a while now. I am originally from Fort McMurray, AB. It's definitely a different vibe from back home to here. We live in an oil country, so that definitely has its impacts.
I’ll be back next month to see family and create some art. I do painting, performance work, video, and collage. So overall I am a multi-disciplinary artist, which helps to gear towards whatever curators are looking for at the time.
My background is really important to me and centralizes the work I do as a First Nations artist and also being a Two-Spirit transgender, which is also really important in my practice.
I feel like the two worlds collide quite a bit because I was raised in foster care since the age of nine months. And I’ve had contact on and off with my birth mother but never with my birth father, so my indigeneity comes from my mother’s side. It’s really important for me to continually try and connect with my culture, which has been a battle.
Also as a Two-Spirit individual, I might not be welcome in some spaces. As I’ve mentioned, we live in an oil country, so it’s a little different. I moved out to pursue my education but now I’m going back out next month to reconnect again with my family. It’s really important for me to centralize my family in my practice.
Currently I am working on year-long studies, which may turn into a larger kind of a portrait series of my baby photos up to the age of five months, that my foster mother took of me while in foster care. Those are really the only photos I have of myself from then.
I am doing a consultation with my brother and sister, paying them for their time and seeing what they really wanted to represent in the photos themselves. So that’s what I’m really focusing on throughout the next year. Thank God I have CADA funding, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do it. I’ll be making them larger than life size so they will look as though they are on a movie screen.
There are different moving parts to my work.
And I think that also that happens with my video practice as well. I have painting and I have performance and video. It sometimes gets hard to pinpoint the actual distinction because they are really separate but at the same time, have similar things and hold a lot of parallels in between.
I am also hoping to go back home and film on the land itself, which is going to be interesting. Fort McMurray had those huge fires back in 2016. Now that the whole province is on fire, everyone is more on edge about the situation. There are several big fires up north in Fort McMurray again, which is affecting the Métis and First Nations, some reservations mainly.
I will be going to Nistawâyâw ᓂᐢᑕᐋᐧᔮᐤ (Fort McMurray) next month to showcase my own art in my hometown and will be able to invite family members and relatives. The show is opening on June 15th, so that’s going to be really lovely!
The exhibition in Fort McMurray is titled Trails Crossing in English, but the curator Jes Croucher is working with Elders to get the name translated in Suline Dene and Cree, which is very exciting!
I will be bringing my story home.
So in my video work, I’ve been out on the land again, reconnecting with the land which was kind of a safe haven for me growing up in foster care. It felt really important for me to go back home and reconnect and explore what it meant to me personally to be a trans masculine foster care survivor out on the land where my ancestors have lived for thousands of years, with the burnt down forest fires.
It's a lot of family, a lot of legacy and a lot of intergenerational trauma. But it's also the beauty in it too.
It’s just a way to really honor and in a way to avenge my ancestors who have survived the residential school systems for over a hundred years in Fort Chipewyan.
Can you tell us about your role and work at Stride Gallery?
We just hosted the first ever Blackfoot show at Stride in the Main Space Exhibition: Ii’pait’aapiiyisinn: Art in the Contemporary and Ancient Blackfoot Way of Life, curated by Evelyn Mikayla Martin (Itsooaakii).
The exhibition features: Brittney Namaakii Bear Hat, Bryce Many Fingers/Singer (Mano'taanikaapi), with Star Crop Eared Wolf: 'PISÁTSSAISSKIIKSI (Flowers) in the Prairie Crocus Space.
We were so lucky to work with Mikayla Martin as the curator!
She approached us about two years ago to have an exhibition for all Blackfoot artists from different nations within the Blackfoot confederacy.
She was very transparent and brought up the point of why hasn’t this kind of show ever happened within Calgary. As a First Nations artist myself, I recognize the fact that it’s kind of tokenizing to be someone who is Indigenous but not from the territory, having more exhibition opportunities than folks and their families who have lived here for a millenia. It’s quite tokenizing.
So we were extremely honoured that she approached us and we have built that relationship with her for the past years.
Relationships are the biggest strength I feel that we have.
I personally forefront relationships in my personal arts practice but also with work I do at Stride Gallery with Eva Birhanu, the other Co-Artistic Director and Areum Kim, who is the Executive Director.
Mikayla was just such a dream to work with. It’s insane honestly that it's 2023 and it has taken this long for a show like this to happen. And the fact that she brought in different people with different practices and she made sure that each space, even our window of emerging artists space was a Blackfoot artist. She had that intention from the start, that the entire space should be embodying this.
We've just felt lucky to support that and I think as an all BIPOC team it just really made sense. There is that trust and familiarity there.
The entire Stride Gallery is all BIPOC, from every staff member to board member, so that’s really important too. It’s like we have this little safe haven we feel right now.
You've had a huge amount of influence and accomplished a lot of incredible work in the arts community. It's quite an inspiration to many emerging artists, especially artists who face barriers.
Can you talk to us about your journey and your practice stemming from your traditions?
I feel like the city, localized Calgary and specifically the province of Alberta needs to understand that there needs to be the physical space given over to artists at the moment, especially emerging artists.
The government has decided that the pandemic is over and there is a need for growth in the arts and culture. They are talking about it and planning to revitalize the downtown core, which I think is very important, with so many unoccupied office buildings currently. Larger organizations have the capacity for this and are doing a great job at increasing spaces.
And I feel like there are smaller organizations, for example Stride, to also put the effort in and do that work to bring people together physically into the space.
In light of June being the Indigenous History month, what are your thoughts as a member of the First Nations community on how you see newcomer artists connecting with Indigenous artists?
Perhaps doing a long-term mentorship based studio residency is an important step in this process. Having folks spending time consistently visiting is really important for bridging the gap and creating steps for reconciliation in our current world.
Gathering people together in the same room would be really positive for bringing people together that might have
For me personally, it is a very cultural aspect - to visit, to talk and have tea together. I feel like that’s what we did together with Mikayla, which was such a success and she paved and led the way for that as well.
How can we further appreciate and nurture these relationships?
So I feel like it would be the biggest thing for success and for these artists that we have mentioned, is to be given that time and space. That would help with all of these other obstacles put forward. People need to invest in them. With that comes time, consistency and patience, in order for things to grow.
What are some of the other exciting projects you are working towards with your team at Stride Gallery?
Today we had the Tsuut’ina Nation Youth Program in the space, so the kids are actually going to be in front of Brittney’s huge collage vinyl sticker, taking photos, and doing a workshop with Nicole. We are very lucky for the Tsuut’ina youth to see it today but also sad to see the work go.
Right now we are also converting Stride, which is the main gallery space into functionable studios, where we'll be continuing mentorship and providing resources, creating a sense of cohesion and cohort.
We are starting the Summer Studio Residency for emerging artists, so we are very busy preparing the space for this. I can’t believe it’s already here! We are paying the artists a subsistence material fee for the three months, as well as not being charged studio rent.
We are taking the individual artists and bringing them together to hopefully have an open house at the end of the summer. So right in September when it’s the busiest season, we are planning to invite curators, other gallery directors, and have the community come into their gallery spaces and studios to meet with them.
We are acting as that connector and that bridge.
It has been an honour to have your contribution and support at ICAI. With the current Mentors-in-Residence cohort coming to an end, can you tell us how this experience has been for you as a mentor?
The mentorship experience has been wonderful with all of the mentees I’ve had the pleasure to chat and work with. It’s been really great meeting with Sayonara, one of the other Mentors-in-Residence and having conversations with her about what else we can provide for the artists. Connecting with other mentors is also helpful in understanding what they are providing and if I can possibly refer someone who has gotten in touch with me initially. So it’s been really great talking with her and building that network.
Time has really flown by and I'm in a way sad to see the current mentorship cohort ending but hopefully it won't end there and the conversations with the artists can keep going.
Smitha Varghese, the Programs Manager at ICAI initially invited me into the Mentors-in-Residence Program and I’ve been lucky to work with her in multiple capacities over the year, especially being in the Rozsa Foundation's RAMP course that we did together. It was great and I got to hear her wonderful perspectives.
My experience with the mentees has been just wonderful. One of the artists I’ve met was Honey Jalali and she was just fantastic. She was so sweet and it was a really great connection. I assisted Honey with her application for the studio residency and her application got chosen by the jury.
It's great to see how so many things can grow from a conversation.
She is going to be moving into the space at the end of the month! I’m excited to be spending more time with her and mentor her even more, helping her along with her practice.
What inspired you to participate in the mentorship program and why do you believe in advocating for newcomers, connecting them with the existing arts landscape in Alberta?
My first experience and interaction with ICAI was such a blessing. Connecting with Toyin Oladele, the Executive Director and Founder of ICAI was truly an honor, especially thinking about the First Nations people who have been here for a long time and connecting them to newcomers and the community. Doing the Treaty work is really key and making sure that everyone is given importance and respect.
It also made me realize there are artists within the city that are of course out of my scope.
I can tell the larger organizations to do that outreach but we also have to do that outreach ourselves. It's a continual process and that consistency needs to happen. Stride is very fortunate to have such opportunities.
Honey is just one example of how one opportunity can help and lead to the next. Sometimes they just need an extra push and that extra connection to get into opportunities that sometimes people frame it as being not available to them. And sometimes it can all start with just one conversation.
The conversations and mentorship sessions would be free-flow held and led in a quite casual sense. We would meet at Arts Commons most of the time where I would get to see their work in the space, or just go for coffee. They would bring their portfolio or would also drop by Stride. With the current exhibition, it’s been great to give them sort of a mini curatorial gallery tour, which was a wonderful experience that Mikayla has given us. It’s been great showcasing the kind of work they could show here in a gallery, what people are looking for, and following up with them after the meeting.
Providing mentees with as much information as possible also translates into telling them about other connections that you can make as an artist here. I really don’t think the mentorship has to end there.
Being a mentor - it's about being a connector.
In similar ways, ICAI is the same kind of connector and a toolbox of resources for many people, providing introductions and overall individualized approach to mentorship and support.