Fine Arts student Maura Tamez is gaining traditional knowledge and advancing her skills during COVID-19 with support from the First Peoples’ Cultural Council.
FPCC arts programs have become more important than ever during COVID-19, and two programs are playing a key role to help Indigenous artist Maura Tamez shape her future. The FPCC Indigenous Arts Program (IAP) supports the values, teachings and practices of Indigenous arts that can be passed on to future generations. In early 2020, with funding from the BC Arts Council, FPCC launched the Indigenous Arts Scholarship/Mentorship grant stream to support emerging Indigenous artists.
Dene artist Maura Tamez received an Indigenous Arts Scholarship in 2020 and will complete her Bachelor of Fine Arts at UBC Okanagan in 2022. Family connections led her to Nsis’soolwx at Okanagan Indian Band #1 near Vernon B.C. where she lives in the Sqilxw community. Maura’s practice is in visual arts with a focus on working with cattail plants to create natural fibre materials. We recently spoke with Maura about her experience as a student during COVID-19, the impact of receiving the scholarship and her involvement in an FPCC-funded program with the organization Sqilxw Apna.
COVID-19 has been an especially challenging time for artists as many rely on public spaces to share their work. For students, the transition to online classes, lack of workspace and reduced employment opportunities have been challenging. The first FPCC Indigenous Arts Scholarship/Mentorship grants were launched in early 2020, right before COVID-19 became an issue. The funding offers vital financial support for students allowing them to focus more of their time and energy on their practice.
“My whole university career I’ve been working two to three jobs while being a full-time student,” says Maura. “The Indigenous Arts Scholarship has allowed me to be able to take a step back from working as much as I usually do, especially now with COVID, and to focus more on my artistic practice, expand my understanding of mixed media and determine how I want to move forward as an artist.”
Like many students, the impact of online learning during COVID-19 has been a challenge for Maura but it has also provided opportunities for her to expand her skills and prepare for a career as an artist after she graduates:
“I had to learn to set up my work at home on my own. I don’t have my own equipment so I learned how to use my phone to document my work for my studio classes and funding opportunities. So that’s been kind of the silver lining, even though it was a hurdle, I’ve been able to learn new skills on the fly. Being able to adapt and adjust to that has been the biggest benefit as it has helped me prepare for whatever comes next.”
The financial support of the scholarship allowed Maura to dedicate more time and resources to other aspects to support her work. Without access to the campus studio spaces, Maura adjusted by working with the cattail plants on a smaller scale, in ways she would not have previously, but she still needed a larger studio space.
“My own studio has been something that I’ve been working on for a couple of years, but until this year I haven’t been able to dedicate the time to completing it. Because of the scholarship, I have been able to allocate funds to build the frame and structure of the studio. When I get the roof and the walls up I’ll have a space to operate so that will be really impactful.”
FPCC programs support the transfer of knowledge and artistic development at many levels. Maura has been involved with FPCC programs for some time as she initially learned how to work with the natural fibres of cattail and tule reed during her participation in the Sqilxw Apna program, “Egalitarianism and the Isolation Lodge” led by Artistic Director Mariel Belanger and supported by the FPCC Arts Organizations and Collectives program. “It was really impactful for me to be invited to harvest on the land and to be in a learning and working environment central to Indigenous Peoples’ way of life and what we care about. It was really important and special to me,” says Maura.
For Mariel Belanger, having Maura continue these traditional skills, which are connected to the land and the Sqilxw – those of the land who have come before them, ensures the survival of these practices for future generations and “protects the medicines that come from that,” says Mariel.
“To find someone like Maura who values the material, the important intergenerational conversation that happens while we’re doing the work together and is able to extend that out into her own practice and networks – I really feel like that’s the ripple effect,” says Mariel. “For Maura, to focus her schoolwork on connections to the land has made her invaluable to our practice. It’s super important that we’re able to continue these relationships through programs like the First Peoples’ Cultural Council to share traditional practices and have role models for the younger generation.”
This spring, the Kelowna Art Gallery opened a show featuring Maura’s work titled Storytellers. We congratulate her on her success and ability to adapt through this challenging year and look forward to seeing her work grow as she continues her studies.
Indigenous Arts Scholarship/Mentorship
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