Aboriginal artists have been making great creative strides in recent years. The extraordinary paintings of Norval Morrisseau (a.k.a. the Copper Thunderbird”) have earned him the nickname “Picasso of the North.” Buffy St. Marie said, “There are two kinds of art: one that makes people millions of dollars and one that keeps communities together.” The talented Canadian-American Cree singer/songwriter has carried the torch for Native musicians for 40 years. She’s also well known as a visual artist, educator, and social activist.
Robbie Robertson, who wrote the classics “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” and “Somewhere Down the Crazy River” has just released his memoir entitled Legends, Icons and Rebels, depicting his personal artistic journey starting in Toronto with Ronnie Hawkins, then with Bob Dylan and eventually The Band. He met other artists, including Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones, and his film work with Martin Scorsese makes for an intriguing biography of a Mohawk musician who believed that even against all odds, he could make it.
Aboriginal writers Joseph Bowden and Richard Wagamese have turned Native experiences into best-selling novels. Richard Van Camp’s novel The Lesser Blessed was made into a movie that garnered rave reviews. Adam Beach worked his way through television and independent movies and eventually was cast as Ira Hayes in the dramatic film Flags of Our Fathers, directed by Clint Eastwood. The 2013 Toronto Film Festival featured three Aboriginal films: Hi-Ho Mistahey from legendary Aboriginal documentary director Alanis Obomsawin, Rhymes For Young Ghouls directed by Jeff Barnaby, and Empire of Dirt directed by Peter Stebings. The Globe and Mail commented that these full-length movies about Canada’s Aboriginal peoples scream “Attention must be paid.”
Aboriginal artists have opened the door for another generation to walk through, but how does the aspiring artist who has worked on his craft find the financial support to realize that dream? The Ontario Arts Council (OAC) exists for that exact purpose. They help fund artists who need assistance to complete whatever project the artist has envisioned. The OAC recognizes the diversity and distinct histories of Aboriginal peoples in Ontario, and they have programs designed to support a wide range of Aboriginal artists an art forms. Aboriginal artists working in all artistic venues are encouraged to apply to the OAC programs that fit their needs. Applications are assessed by Aboriginal artists who have first hand knowledge of traditional Native arts, along with a cultivated understanding of contemporary arts such as film and literature.
Visit the OAC web site [arts.on.ca] to learn about the criteria for applying for a grant. The next step is to get some advice. Sara Roque (416-969-7454) [firstname.lastname@example.org] is the Aboriginal Arts officer for the Ontario Arts Council, and she can help you determine which direction to go in to ensure that the organization or the artist have every opportunity in securing funding for their project. For general information, call (416-969-7429) or toll free (1-800-387-0058 ext. 7429).
You must also be persistent. If the first application is turned down, don’t let that stop you; apply again, and again. Most artists will tell you that their funding came after several applications, but some are lucky enough to develop a project that is funded immediately. Whether you have worked on your art for years or you are a novice with a great idea, submit your application. The funding is there, and the OAC is very sensitive to the importance of developing Aboriginal artists in Ontario. In the words of OAC officer Sara Roque, “It shows a general sense of pride when the arts are healthy.” Turning a personal dream into reality is the role of the artist, and helping the artist fulfill that mission is the purpose of the Ontario Arts Council.