When Did You Become An Artist?

This question comes in many forms. When did you realize you were an artist, when did you first self-identify as an artist, when did you feel you succeeded as an artist. Everyone is born an artist, when did that stop for you? All very good questions.

In 1988, I was 6 years old. What’s important about that year is that I started Kindergarten at Marcelin School, population 100 maybe? And it was also the year of the Calgary Olympics. I remember a few things about that year, for one, it was a really great year for movies, (right?): Beetlejuice, Die Hard, The Land Before Time, Heathers, Willow, Rain Man, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Big, Twins, Mystic Pizza, Cocktail (my favourite soundtrack). Anyway, it was a good year, I think.

I remember going to visit the Olympic torch in a small town somewhere, can’t remember. I pretended to reach the torch, but I never actually touched it, oh well.

I also remember an art contest. My class listened to a storyteller and then recreated a drawing of the story using crayons and feathers. My Kokum worked in my school as Teacher’s Aid…for my class. I should say my school was located in a town about a 10 minute drive from my reserve. I remember my older sister and cousins had to call her Ms. Arcand, but I never did, I just called her Kokum. When the storyteller came and we were told to make a picture about the story, I started colouring with crayons, then I remember my kokum coming up beside me and telling me where to glue the feathers. I listened, of course, and then, I don’t remember much else.

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A few months later, I was told that I won a contest, a colouring contest! Thirty dollars was mine to spend! Kokum took me and my sister to the Marcelin Co-op after school where I bought the board game Pictionary. This was really important. I don’t know if this is related to the art contest. But I was also informed that my artwork would be displayed at the Calgary Olympics!

It was a big deal at the time, I was six years old and my art was going to be shown at the Olympics! I was awarded a heavy book called The Spirit Sings, the pictures in the book scared and intrigued me. I was awarded an ugly toque, I hated that toque, but I wore it. The day I found out was a school assembly day and also Hawaii day ? So I wore a shirt that Kokum got me from Hawaii.

My Uncle sends me a picture of my art at the Olympics. My cousin, Sarain points at it.

It wasn’t until years later that I found out about the Lubicon Cree and their struggle to fight for their inherent rights to protect their land. Nineteen-eighty-eight was an important year; the Lubicon withdrew from court action and assert sovereignty over their territory, setting up a peaceful blockade to stop all oil activity for 6 days. But armed RCMP officers forcibly remove the barricades. Simultaneously, Rebecca Belmore’s performance Artifact #6718 drew attention to Shell Oil who was a major sponsor of the exhibition, The Spirit Sings. But what did I know, I was just trying not to get beat up in gym class.

Anyway, I got a letter shortly after. My picture was going to be sent to Europe! The letter was asking whether I would give my permission.

I said no. My Kokum wanted to hang the picture in her house. So it did, until she gave it back to me. That is when, I remember becoming an artist.

 – joi arcand

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