Sarah Zimmerman posing for a photo beside Terrace’s new mural depicting the lifecycle of coho salmon on the side of the Janitor’s Warehouse building on Lakelse Avenue. (Sarah Zimmerman/Facebook photo)

COLUMN: Art Matters by Sarah Zimmerman

This is for us all, this vibrant art community

Terrace murals are more than just pretty paintings.

When I was asked to write the arts column for the Terrace Standard, I jumped at the chance. It’s like coming full circle. My first career was as a reporter at the Terrace Standard from 2000-2007. I’m thrilled to be back, but this time talking about something near and dear to me: the vibrant art community.

This summer, I was fortunate enough to paint one of the new downtown Terrace murals, with exceptional Gitxsan/Nisga’a artist Jaimie Davis.

We were both excited to be part of the vision set forth by the Skeena Salmon Arts Festival Society to showcase the talent of regional artists in large scale murals throughout the downtown core, inspired by the common theme of salmon. Ours is the coho lifecycle mural on the side of the Janitor’s Warehouse building on Lakelse Ave.

Jaimie and I have collaborated on art projects before, and every time we work together, I learn something new that deepens my understanding of Gitxsan culture and traditions.

READ MORE: The Skeena Salmon Art Festival kicks off with annual art show

When Jaimie spent hours in my living room weaving cedar for a project I was working on, I learned about traditional harvesting practices and the strength that comes from weaving individual strands of cedar together. Individually they are weak, but woven together they are strong.

Jaimie uses cedar weaving as a metaphor for unity and I really like that – it’s also a bit of a metaphor for the coming together that happens when settler and Indigenous artists collaborate.

Long hours spent painting together created an opportunity for not only us, but our kids to interact with one another.

Jaimie shared cultural practices she has learned from her family throughout her lifetime and spoke about how important salmon is to her family, people and community.

So I reflected on the other murals that have been painted in the last year and a half – many of which were designed in collaboration with Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists.

Look at the two big murals by George Little Park – the designs were the result of Facundo Gastiazoro, a super-talented Argentinian immigrant who lives in Smithers, and Terrace-based Stó:lo artist, Amanda Hugon.

Witset-based Cree artist (and stellar hip hop performer) Travis Hebert was also integral to those pieces. Both of those projects involved artists from the region who helped paint the murals.

They incorporated a complex web or world views: Gitxsan, Nisga’a, Tsimshian, Wet’suwet’en, Métis, Stó:lo, Cree, French Canadian, German, Scottish heritage and more. People from various backgrounds coming together to make a mark on our city.

I want to note the sheer number of talented Indigenous women who have left their mark on these murals. Jaimie Davis, Stephanie Anderson, Veronica Waechter, Amanda Hugon – all graduates of the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art at Coast Mountain College (full disclosure, I work at Coast Mountain College for more than five years so this amazing fine arts program holds a special place in my heart).

READ MORE: Five murals to be painted in Terrace this summer

Veronica recently graduated with her degree in Fine Arts from Emily Carr University of Art and Design and, Hazelton-based Gitxsan artist Michelle Stoney was recently honoured with the prestigious Fulmer Award in BC First Nations Art. These are well-established artists.

If you ask any one of them, they’ll likely tell you that their art is more than just creating finished pieces. It is a way of revitalizing artforms that were lost due to the outlawing of the potlatch from and the devastating impact of the residential school system. The act of sharing these gifts with the world is a form of sharing the wisdom of their ancestors.

We are at a unique time in our Canadian history where reconciliation is at the forefront of moving forward as a society.

As a sixth-generation settler in Canada, I often don’t know what my role is. How do you even DO reconciliation? There’s no manual for how to improve our relationships after finally acknowledging the horrific truth around the residential school system and the intergenerational effects that has had on Indigenous people and our society.

Projects that encourage collaboration and seek to showcase northwest coast art both First Nations and non-Indigenous, have a vital role to play in how reconciliation can look.

It doesn’t only start with government action on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. It can start with art and the power it has to bring people together to tell a story that is reflective of the times in which we live.

So, hats off to the team at the Skeena Salmon Arts Festival Society for having the vision to showcase the talented artists in the Northwest and creating an opportunity for this community to show how we can work together celebrate our differences.

The Terrace Standard welcomes Sarah as its monthly arts columnist.

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