Indigenous art market helps artists who struggled during pandemic

A pop-up Indigenous art market in Toronto is promoting and selling the work of Indigenous artists who have faced challenges throughout the pandemic.

After month of scarce income, art market for Indigenous creators a welcome boost

Curator and organizer Barb Nahwegahbow has worked with Indigenous artists for 40 years. She said the reception from the community has been 'beyond belief.' (CBC)

A pop-up Indigenous art market in Toronto is promoting and selling the work of Indigenous artists who have faced economic challenges throughout the pandemic.

ANDPVA's Indigenous art market opened this week in Leslieville at 1107 Queen St. E. On Saturday, while celebrating its grand opening, patrons lined up outside the pop-up store demonstrating the high demand of Indigenous art in the city.

Curator and organizer Barb Nahwegahbow said the reception from the community has been "beyond belief." She and Marcos Arcentales have curated a collection of art for sale that includes the work of at least 15 Indigenous artists representing six different nations working in a variety of mediums.

"It's very heartwarming," Nahwegahbow told CBC News. "It brings the artists to tears to hear how people feel about their work."

Artists have suffered greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many of their shows, tours, and exhibits have been closed or postponed. Indigenous artists have been hit even harder as powwows have halted, and so too have other cultural events that so many relied on for exposure and income.

"They've been isolated and suffering economically," Nahwegahbow said. "The inspiration is hard to come [in those conditions]."

She noted when the artists saw how the community responded to the pop-up market, "that inspiration came back to them."

While speaking to CBC, a constant queue took shape outside the store. The market will remain open throughout the holiday season until Dec. 24.

The store features a variety of art pieces and creations including bead work, paintings, print, candles, jewelry, moccasins and much more. (CBC)

"We've shown that Toronto needs a place like this," Nahwegahbow said. "A place where you can buy authentic Indigenous art."

ANDPVA, the Association for Native Development in the Performing and Visual Arts, is Canada's oldest Indigenous arts service organization, its executive director Millie Knapp said. Knapp hopes that the pop-up market can soon be available online.

"There is a very real possibility we'll take this online," she said. "But it would be amazing to have a physical space and an online presence so Indigenous artists continue being helped beyond the pandemic."

At the market, patrons will find bead work, paintings, prints, candles, jewelry, moccasins featuring the work of artists like Mo Thunder, Clayton Samuel King, Susan Hill, Warren Steven Scott, Mel Bartel, Wes Havill, Diane Montreuil, and more.

One of the patrons, Michael Kaneva, plans to share what he found with his family and friends in the form of Christmas cards after he bought several prints of Indigenous art.

"It's so meaningful to have this opportunity not just to see the product but to feel the culture and the background and the experience that goes into the creation of this art," he said.

Kaneva says it's important to support Indigenous art for two major reasons — the economic support to Indigenous artists suffering in the pandemic, and as a way to spread cultural awareness to people who would otherwise have not experienced or seen Indigenous art.

"We have so few opportunities to experience Indigenous art and this is one of few we have available to us," he added.

ANDPVA executive director Millie Knapp hopes to create an online portal for patrons to purchase Indigenous art, but remains hopeful that a permanent physical space might be established. (CBC)

Theresa Burning's beadwork can be found for purchase at the store as well. She came by to support the shop and other artists on Saturday afternoon.

"To see something like this going on is very exciting," she said. "It all flows together, having the Indigenous art in one place."

Laura Heidenheim said she was excited to support the market, saying it's important for settlers to support Indigenous artists.

"It would be great if it was permanent," she said. "I think it's important for settlers to find ways for reciprocity, and one way is supporting Indigenous businesses."

Opening a permanent physical space is "something we're thinking about," Nahwegahbow said.

"There's a lot more openness and awareness, people do want to support Indigenous people," she said. "The artists will continue to create and we have other artists who are also interested."

With files from Dale Manucdoc