In 2013, I had a vision regarding our graduating students of the Aboriginal Visual Arts (AVA) Program at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design (NBCCD). How great would it be for them to transition from college to a supporting entrepreneurial environment that would enable them to refine their business skills while producing their traditional art and fine craft? I had visited Saint John, NB on a number of occasions and was very impressed with the Port City’s cruise ship terminal and sales opportunities for NB artists. I pictured our graduates setting up a professional display in which visitors could purchase work, and observe practices like pounding ash logs, making baskets, pottery, canoe paddles and other traditional crafts. Tens of thousands of cruise ship tourists visit Saint John every year and I saw this as an opportunity to increase engagement and raise awareness of East Coast Aboriginal art, while providing ready sales potential for our graduates.
I brought my ideas to Harriet Taylor, the Academic Dean at NBCCD. Harriet not only supported my initial thoughts but also continues to help navigate and nurture this idea to where it is today. She played an instrumental role in the development of this project and together we secured $180,000 over three years from the Province of New Brunswick for a feasibility study (Dr. Verle Harrop), business development plan (Dr. Taylor Gray, Tacit Elements) and business establishment. In the first two years, the original “pop-up” concept evolved to a vigorous business model that ensured long-term sustainability. There were a number of changes from my original idea that I felt were smart and aggressive in this business model. The first major change was to remove the idea of a “pop-up gallery” from Saint John to a virtual gallery/online presence, and Fredericton would become the home base of operations. The second change came from Harriet wanting to open up this opportunity to all Aboriginal graduates from NBCCD. This helped us in terms of making a stronger, more unified connection, not only with our Aboriginal graduates but also the larger Aboriginal art and craft communities. The third change broadened the scope of operations to include senior Aboriginal artists/mentors from the Atlantic region, including Maine.
The final phase of this 3-year journey was to hire a Development Manager for the implementation of the business plan. NBCCD received its final installment of $60,000.00 by the Provincial Government to proceed and we hired Tara Audibert to oversee this endeavor, as well as Michel Bergeron, to develop the website. During this final phase a Board of Directors was established and April 1, 2017 sees the official launch of the newly formed Mawi’art: Wabanaki Artist Collective, a non-profit Aboriginally owned and operated organization. Although Harriet and I will remain on the Board of Directors for the duration of the set-up phase, the organization is at arm’s length from the College of Craft and Design, independent and eager to serve as a creative channel for our graduates, as well as a venue for mid-career and senior Aboriginal artists from the Atlantic Region.
-Charles Gaffney, Department Head, New Brunswick College of Craft and Design
Katie Augustine, AVA Alumni with other members of Mawi’art Collective