A residence for Francophone-Canadian artists at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity.
In late August I took part in a very special artists’ residency called Entr’Arts, a program assembled every two years by rafa(Regroupement Artistique Francophone de l’Alberta).
This year’s edition hosted 23 francophone artists from four artistic disciplines: visual art, music, writing and television arts. They came from five Canadian provinces and worked under the caring guardianship of six mentors who came to us from as far away as Belgium. Each artist applied for the program with a project to work on during the residency and a mind open and welcoming to whatever might unfold.
Even though it was the fifth time I participated in the program, it’s still difficult to put this incredible experience into words because, quite literally, those six short days always succeed in rocking my world. After the first edition I participated in years ago, I came home and wrote to friends that it was like having been in the eye of a hurricane. While I was there, it seemed like everything was calmly happening within the little world I occupied. But when I left that creative cocoon, it felt like the whole world got reorganised while I was gone.
This time, I thought, I knew what to expect and felt immune to what was coming. Been-there-done-that, I thought! In fact, after a year packed to the brim with things I didn’t necessarily want to do, this opportunity felt like just one more ‘have-to-do’.
Was I ever wrong! This session might have been the one that got to my soul the most. How can I possibly explain the energy of that place and of the group in which I was immersed?
Let’s start with the land itself. The Banff Centre sits on sacred land where archaeological evidence proves that humans have lived for at least 10,000 years. It was the traditional territory of the Kootenay, Stoney, Blood, Peigan, Siksika and Tsuu T’ina First Nations. The word going around the Banff Centre is that the land where it sits was a gathering place where Nations came to be together and to seek healing. After a few days on site, we all started to feel it. The land is indeed more than breathtakingly beautiful. It is sacred.
It’s every artist’s dream: a world-class facility, a brilliant private studio space and a creative and technical team there to teach you what you need to learn and provide you with the guidance you didn’t even know you would be looking for. Your only responsibility is to expand your mind and explore new vistas in your creative work. And when your mind needs to take a break there are yoga classes, a swimming pool and endless hiking trails at your doorstep. And when, finally, you’re both tired and hungry, you’re fed a gourmet meal and provided a beautiful room where the only noise to disturb your sleep is the wind sighing through the forest that surrounds you. That on its own is a gift.
And then there was the group. The artists and mentors who were there for this summer’s program were particularly caring. Some of us got together in Edmonton a week later and had a chance to reminisce about our Banff Centre experience. We tried to decide what word could best describe this group. We chose “bienveillant”. Benevolent. All of us were so happy to be there, to work hard, to exchange our thoughts about life and art and to do it all in French, each of us with our own unique Canadian and European accents. All of us, away from home, felt right at home in one another’s company.
Part of the Banff Centre experience is to put yourself in danger as an artist, to push your comfort boundaries and see what else you can express while staying true to your own voice. At first I was almost frightened by the profound discomfort of feeling like I had no idea what I was doing. But then I discovered the joy of seeing my ideas unlock and come together and, in the end, the work I set out to do went really well.
I was there to test an installation project that can now accompany my paintings in gallery shows. (I’ll let you know more of the details about the installation in a future blog). The group discussions really helped with this process, even when what was being discussed had nothing to do with what I was doing. Hearing the others going through their own struggles and finding solutions is both nourishing and reassuring and generates unexpected answers.
I’m still riding that wave of energy! And I hope to keep all that I learned close to heart in the work I will take on in the next two years. Then I hope to go back to the Banff Centre and fill up my creative tank again.
Ent’Arts: a residency for Canadian francophone artists from New Brunswick and the western provinces is a gift to all of those who have the chance to experience it. You go there thinking you are stepping out of reality to enter a privileged time away from the usual worries of the world. But you come out of it feeling like this was reality and that the world outside of that time has taken on a whole new meaning – not fully real and all of a sudden malleable.