Today, as BC Achievement launches the 14th annual Fulmer Award in First Nations Art (FNA), and our province moves forward with COVID 19 Phase 3 of reopening, it’s timely to consider the ever-current words of world renowned Tahltan and Tlingit artist, Dempsey Bob. During recent conversations with First Nations artists and their communities, we have heard that now, more than ever, we need to shine a light on excellence in First Nations Art. Dempsey, who is also the inaugural recipient of the FNA program’s lifetime achievement Award of Distinction, closed the 2018 Fulmer Award ceremony with a powerful address to all artists as to the importance of their work and its impact on identity and culture.
“The amazing designs of our ancestors represents some of the greatest art ever done, and that’s what we’ve been trying to get close to, but I think they’ve carved a wall that’s so big and deep that we could never get over it. And I’ve realized that the only thing we could do today is carve a new wall, and these artists are going to be part of that wall. Because quality and excellence are what matters in life and in your work along with your belief in your culture and your people. When you look at life, at great art, you’re looking at intelligence. You’re looking at integrity. You’re looking at somebody’s belief system. You’re also looking at truth, a truth that must be said. Because art is what keeps us in line as a people, it gives you identity, and a sense of place. It gives you meaning. It gives you direction.”
Since 2006, the FNA program has celebrated the intersection of art and culture, while honouring First Nations artistic traditions. Aiming to create an authentic space for community engagement, mentorship and storytelling where traditions are passed onto younger generations and shared with a BC-wide audience the program has shone a light on 77 outstanding artists. Dempsey challenges today’s generation of artists to ‘come alive and find the balance’ that drawing trains you to see. Noting that the goal for artists is to achieve the ‘magical line’ that dictates power and balance with soft curves and strong forms, he reminds his audiences that ‘talent is cheap and it’s the dedication and the commitment that fosters art’.
Two FNA program alumni, Tsimshian artist Phil Gray (2014 Awardee) and KC Hall, Heiltsuk Nation and (2018 Crabtree McLennan Emerging Artist) spoke to their efforts and commitment to their respective practices last November. They shared what makes them get out of bed in the morning and it is, for each of them, their drive to continually improve upon their art – it is their pursuit of excellence. Phil told us that he loves what he does but that it is not an easy life to live as he digs deep each day to raise the bar and KC said that he constantly wants to keep painting and he longs to get to his desk to produce and get better. They identified with Dempsey’s words calling it the “magnificent struggle’ because as Dempsey warned, ‘you just don’t know if you’re going to get it done’:
“It’s not easy because you have to motivate yourself. You have to try to get better. We always try to get better, and you have to continuously learn. Because if you stop learning, you stop being an artist.”
KC and Phil also spoke to the importance of receiving the Fulmer Award and that the resulting validation, boost of confidence and incentive to push forward with their own artistic struggles was paramount to their own pursuits. And now the 2020 Fulmer Award program is open for nominations and ready to highlight a new cohort of artists. During these challenging times artists have much to say about their ability to build resilience.
Nominate Now and #shinethelightbc on a First Nations artist in your community. Be part of it and tell a First Nations artist’s story, perhaps your own, and share how BC continues to be a place filled with astonishing craft, with unique and immensely expressive power, and continuous wonder. #nominatenowbc