We are thrilled to introduce our guest blog contribution—GAGL Artist Interview Series—featuring the eight incredible artists, and artist collectives, selected for the Great Art for Great Lakes (GAGL) project. In each community, the artists have completed their community maker events where they engaged the public to participate in the co-creation of their proposed artwork.
Now, they are working hard to complete the final pieces and getting them ready to be unveiled in their respective communities before the end of the year.
GAGL sat down with Thunder Bay Artist Betty Carpick to discuss how she came to propose her piece, Threading Water, her experience working with the public through this community-engagement art initiative using embroidery and fabric, and her thoughts on the impacts of visual culture to a given community.
I’m a dreamer. I’m drawn to the imaginative world and using my skills to create and inspire. I grew up in Lynn Lake, Manitoba in a remote and isolated northern community. I’m very proud to belong to the north and will always feel very much connected. The north is home to my relations, the Cree and American people on my mom’s side, and the Russian-Ukrainians on my dad’s. The beautiful landscape and seasons of my homeland gives direction and shape to my creative life.
I have been making and creating since I was a child. As an interdisciplinary artist, arts educator and environmentalist, I use my upbringing and a combination of genres and disciplines to refine approaches and create transactions that are a springboard for positive, long-lasting change. My practice includes writing, drawing, sculpture, photography, film, performance, and installation.
“The community-engaged work is a type of performance that motivates people to be curious, engaged, and connected with their broader world.”
GAGL: What motivates you to create community-engaged collaborative artwork?
I enjoy inspiring people of all ages and abilities to be more creative. I like to provide a spark, an invitation that opens up possibilities and a sense of magic. The community-engaged work is a type of performance that motivates people to be curious, engaged, and connected with their broader world. By creating a collaborative work, there are opportunities to share creativity, skill development, camaraderie, and storytelling. I use my work to look at social, cultural, and environmental issues in both serious and playful ways. For participants, the discovery of deeper meanings can be visceral, which helps people figure out their intentions and connections. I like honing a sense of mystery.
GAGL: What was it like teaching people how to embroider?
Wonderful! I learned a lot! The language of stitching is an ancient craft that resonates with community, art-making, and personalizing stories. For some people, embroidery was new to them so threading a needle and learning the versatile running stitch was the beginning. For others, they were revisiting an art that they hadn’t done since childhood. The use of a curated, water-inspired palette with the embroidery threads and the introduction of the two harvested and distilled inks from The Toronto Ink Company provided many opportunities to imagine, experiment, dismantle, and connect. I was delighted in how many people wanted to share their stories by stitching and by talking about their experience.
“The discovery and the sharing is part of the inherent beauty of art.”
GAGL: Why do you think visual culture has the power to create strong narratives in the community?
Visual culture provides a springboard for distinctive conversations both personal and as a community. For Threading Water, relationships to water were told through the making process, through each individual square, and through the shared experience. The people who participated in the project talked to their friends and family about the work and created a ripple effect. People of all ages are open to friendly, accessible, and non-threatening social spaces that welcome collaborative, community-engagement. Art is fueled by curiosity and a search for answers. The discovery and the sharing is part of the inherent beauty of art.
GAGL: In addition to Threading Water, what are the other types of art that make up your body of work?
I’m interested in social and emotional significances and the sensory possibilities in exploring those relationships. I’m excited about conceptual public installations around life skills such as cooking, sewing, fixing, and building. Skills that benefit everyone and that we’re becoming disengaged from. Through my installation, Bread and Threads in 2017, I invited audiences to explore the many metaphors that bread and stitching have in our lives. I created a 7’ x 7’ bread curtain connected by embroidery threads and invited participants to stitch their own piece of bread in a room heavily scented with artisanal bread toasted on the spot.
GAGL: What is your advice for people who want to learn how to engage communities through art?
Get involved in your community so that you can begin to understand the characteristics and commonalities. Figure out what could inspire your community. Think of a beautiful idea. Weigh all of the options. Improve on the idea. Think of community engaged art as a performance much like a jazz composition. Learn how to be loose and spontaneous within a carefully curated vision. Have fun!
GAGL: If there weren’t any constraints, what would your dream project look like?
I would love a dedicated, year-long space where the natural world would be the setting for providing life skills-based art experiences that enhance people’s relationship to the land and the water. The space would be a homage to my maternal Cree grandmother, Josephine Dysart who was born and raised in the bush of northern Manitoba.