Bison installation launches Métis Mentorship Project at Mann Art Gallery

Michael Oleskyn/ Daily Herald (L to R) Leah Dorion and Ashley Smith, two artists in the second Métis Mentorship Project at the Mann Art Gallery, installed the first of a series of bison during their first installation at the gallery on Friday. For more see Page 13.

The Mann Art Gallery Intergenerational Métis Mentorship Project officially launched Friday with the first installation of a series at the gallery. This is similar to a project last year and sees local artist Leah Dorion mentoring emerging Métis cultural educator and artist Ashley Smith.

Dorion and Smith, will create three temporary art projects in outdoor spaces surrounding the Mann Art Gallery and E.A.Rawlinson Centre in July and August. Each installation will be up for several weeks.

Along with Dorion and Smith, guest artist and last year’s mentee Danielle Castle will also be participating in the project. Seeing the project continue for another year was important to Dorion, who said it’s amazing to see it happening again.

“We didn’t know if they would see the value in it and they totally understood that mentorship isn’t just a small one time thing,” Dorion said. “It has to keep going, and they funded this and they understood that this needs to be a long-term mentorship process.”

“They put the real support behind this to keep the mentorship with Dani—and we still have Dani involved in a peripheral way—but to expand it to Ashley now is just a beautiful continuation,” she added.

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Volunteers and artists Leah Dorion and Ashley Smith worked on a bison art installation at the Mann Art Gallery on Friday to officially launch the Intergenerational Métis Mentorship Project for 2021.

The first project saw the installation of cardboard bison painted in English and Michif depicting traditional Métis values and images. The bison were painted in a workshop on Monday and at earlier dates. Several artists contributed.

“It’s colourful and loving and joyful and it’s made by intergenerational hands. We have had all ages work on the figurines, from Elders to little kids,” Dorion said.

The project, which is similar to one from last year, is a pride for Dorion.

“I have been cooking this up for quite some time and seeing if it would be something that is viable. It has been a while in the making,” she said.

On Monday there was a first time visitor to the gallery who wound up joining the workshop.

“He just came to check out the gallery and then he said ‘yeah I’ll paint’ and joined in. We just started talking about the values and what the buffalo meant and now he is going to have a piece going out,” Castle said.

Dorion echoed the joy on the part of the project participants in having someone find it in this way.

She said the growth of the program brings a fresh perspective from Smith, who will grow and expand both her and Castle’s own perspective.

Castle explained that as a Métis woman, seeing the project grow was exciting.

“It’s really inspirational, (and) it’s amazing that Leah is able to continue through the gallery to pass on her knowledge, which is the most exciting part to me. Leah is a knowledge keeper. She passes on that knowledge, so the more people she can pass it on to, the better. Sharing is one of our values as Métis people and the more we can share the better it is for all of us because it’s a core fundamental value for us to share,” Castle said.

Smith met Dorion while she was a student at SUNTEP and while studying there she found a connection to her Métis roots.

“I really became passionate about my Métis identity, who I am, the teachings, the values and just connected to all of the teachings. And I am just so grateful that i get to have the opportunity to continue to learn,” Smith said.

Dorion said that the circle will grow with Castle and Smith if the project is funded again next summer.

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Artists Leah Dorion and Ashley Smith place bison for the art installation at the Mann Art Gallery on Friday to officially launch the Intergenerational Métis Mentorship Project for 2021.

“The circle will grow, we will keep doing workshops together, I can just see this as evolving,” Dorion said.

The overall intent is to create highly visible, accessible and educational contemporary Indigenous (Métis) art in public spaces in the Prince Albert celebrating the Métis culture and teaching youth and emerging artists values and techniques. The project is a way to temporarily “Indigenize” our public spaces surrounding the Mann Art Gallery / E.A. Rawlinson Centre using natural and traditional materials in an accessible and fun way

“And this way through the gallery, through the public, we can share our stories, we can share our teachings, we can share our values,” Castle said.

The whole project will involve public art connected to the gallery and Rawlinson Centre over the summer months.

“I knew they needed to be done, I sit on a couple of Indigenous advisory committees, I am on the Indigenous people’s advisory committee for the museum. And I realized that this story of Métis land use and Métis arts just needed to happen and it needed to be done through arts, through the artistic process,” Dorion said.

The project Friday was scheduled for two hours but so many people came to help that it went much faster than expected.

“This is amazing that we have this kind of help,” Dorion said.

The other projects include a Willow Meditation Walkway, which is expected to be installed in July in Scarrow Park by the Provincial Court and finally a lobstick in late August.

“We are going to do some workshopping just like we do with the bison figurines. We are going to go do the selection of the materials ourselves with our team. And then we are going to set everything and then we will open up when we are ready and prepped. We are going to have community members contribute to the lobstick and the willow path,” Dorion said.

Castle is also excited about the lobstick idea.

“It is an awesome addition to the project. The lobstick is a really cool because now it is telling and teaching another story about culture. Seeing it get passed on is phenomenal and I hope that they can continue to do that as long as they can,” Castle said.

This project is funded by Saskatchewan Lotteries through the SaskCulture Aboriginal Arts and Culture Leadership Grant (AACL), the Community Initiatives Fund,the City of Prince Albert and Area Community Grant Program and the City of Prince Albert.