Danielle Castle and Leah Dorion firmly believe they were meant to collaborate. The two Métis artists are the same person at heart: They’re both inspired by the land and dedicate their lives to arts education.
In fact, Dorion sees a younger version of herself in Castle. She remembers, nearly two decades ago, when she was trying to kickstart her art career while raising her son.
The pair is launching their Intergenerational Métis Artist Mentorship Project on Friday. Outside of the Mann Art Gallery from 1 to 3 p.m., weather permitting, they’ll be collaboratively creating a sidewalk chalk mural.
That will be the first of five temporary outdoor art installations across Prince Albert.
“We’ve had so much fun scouting locations, pitching ideas to people that we’re working with,” said Dorion. This includes the Mann Art Gallery and the City of Prince Albert.
“It’s going to go well no matter what because we’ve already—together—learned so much about how to do this public art.”
Castle is the acting educator at the Mann Art Gallery. Last year, the gallery launched a small residency project with Dorion.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic entered Saskatchewan, Dorion hosted workshops there making Métis moss bags and Plains-style Métis ribbon skirts.
“We were looking for ways to extend and do things with Leah at the gallery for her mini residency that we started, and we were just looking at grants and how to do it,” explained Castle.
“Then, with COVID, things changed. Leah was just like, ‘You know what, I want to mentor you,’ and I’m like ‘yes.’”
Dorion will work with Castle on the outdoor installations, teaching her how to plan, produce, install and implement the art.
The project is inspired by Dorion’s children’s book The Giving Tree: A Retelling of a Traditional Métis Story. The book highlights the culture’s core values, including strength, kindness, courage, balance and love.
Nowadays, they said, live public art is scarce.
One of Dorion’s favourite memories is setting up her easel at Batoche National Historic Park. Children who were there on a field trip were constantly checking in, excited to see what her next brush stroke would bring.
“When people see me working publicly, making art, they’re so inspired and so curious and so excited. We don’t watch people live, making things as much as we used to.”
Castle agreed, saying art isn’t always about seeing your finished work on display.
“It’s the process, not your final product,” she said. “It’s so important. That’s where you’re getting the therapy and the expression.”
“I think the public will just come to the spaces and just feel good about the art being in the public locations. It will really elevate the city’s story and the city’s visual arts,” added Dorion about the temporary installations.
The Intergenerational Métis Artist Mentorship Project is funded by the Aboriginal Arts and Culture Leadership Grant from SaskCulture and the Community Initiatives Fund.
Castle and Dorion will be working on each of the five art installations in accessible locations for the public to come watch and ask questions. They’ll be ensuring that no more than 30 people are gathered at one time, and that everyone is physically distanced to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
They will be working on separate projects on the Friday of every week, for the next five weeks.
However, they may have to move the events to the weekend depending on the weather. The Mann Art Gallery will update the public on its social media platforms.
“To work with younger artists pushes a person who’s been practicing art for so long to different directions,” emphasized Dorion.
“It’s honestly such a perfect time in my life,” said Castle about the collaboration.
“The universe made it happen.”