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Artful connections

Student-run art gallery at Hatcher House bringing community together

Student Life

By Lisa Pendergast

Not everyone has an artistic vision when they look at a gray slab of concrete.

Memorial student, Holly Star Tait, with residence life advisor, Travis Myers, standing in front of the Creations by Nations art gallery in Hatcher House.
From left are Memorial student, Holly Star Tait, with residence life advisor, Travis Myers, in front of the Creations by Nations art gallery in Hatcher House on the St. John’s campus.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

So, how did the old roof of Hatcher House become a place to showcase the unique stories and connections of the Indigenous student community at Memorial?

Concept

Dwayne Taverner, a supervisor in the Residence Life office, proposed the idea as a course project while he was earning his master of education degree in post-secondary studies.

Noticing that there was some unused space in Hatcher House after a renovation, and knowing there was student support funding available, he and Travis Myers (M.Ed.’22), residence life advisor, took on the project.

Next up was advertising a MUCEP position for an Indigenous artist who was able to both curate and facilitate.

Holly Star Tait, who is in her final year studying geography and French at Memorial, more than fit the description.

Creative

Under Ms. Tait’s creative eye, the project progressed from creative concept to student programming and the Creations by Nations Gallery was born.

“It all started with a notebook,” she said. “That’s what I learned in design school. There can be many drafts, which are all helpful. I saw the space and just started sketching. Then we made it come true.”

Ms. Tait painted large 24-foot by 24-foot canvases, envisioning a continuous and timeless cultural landscape.

Her art was digitized and wallpapered as the backdrop of the gallery. She created a logo and description of the initiative, which was laser burned into a piece of live edge wood.

Students, faculty and staff are welcome to view the artwork at any time; the gallery is located on the third floor of Hatcher House, directly before the skywalk leading to Macpherson College.

Determined to persevere

Throughout the creative process, Ms. Tait had many conversations with the community at Juniper House on the St. John’s campus to discuss the vision and to hear feedback on the project.

Ms. Tait came to Newfoundland and Labrador from Manitoba with her family — her dad is from this province — but they did not expect the level of discrimination they faced.

It was so difficult, the family discussed leaving. Ms. Tait had a decision to make.

“I thought about where I wanted to be and the answer was home, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in Manitoba,” she said. “I grew up on the reservation and different places in Manitoba and I identify as Ojibwe Cree, although I’ve been told I’m a mix of different groups, such as Métis and Anishinaabe. My decision was to finish high school in Newfoundland and Labrador and try graphic design at College of the North Atlantic before leaving. I loved it. I wanted more education and I came to Memorial.”

With a determination to persevere and support from the community at Juniper House, Ms. Tait has excelled at Memorial and beyond.

“I’m here because I didn’t give up.” — Holly Star Tait

She was the MUNSU Indigenous Representative for the 2021–22 term; national co-chair with the Circle of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Students and Indigenous Caucus of the Canadian Federation of Students and is the Indigenous commissioner for Newfoundland and Labrador.

“I understand the pain my family has received, but I didn’t want to give up on this province. Ten years later, I’ve explored the island and met so many people. I’m here because I didn’t give up.”

Indigenization

Similarly, Memorial University’s Indigenization process has been moving forward in steps and stages.

To date, the most significant step is the creation of the Strategic Framework for Indigenization 2021–26.

One of the framework’s strategic priorities is to increase Indigenous student success by providing an inclusive environment in which Indigenous students thrive and succeed.

With the installation of the Creations by Nations Gallery, Student Residences at Memorial is reflecting Indigenous culture to the community by bringing students together in creative expression.

Memorial student, Holly Star Tait, poses with colourful, wavy, artwork she created inside the Creations by Nations art gallery.
Holly Star Tait poses with her artwork inside the Creations by Nations art gallery.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Community programming

The gallery’s art program is open to all students, faculty and staff.

Art nights have taken place in collaborative spaces on the St. John’s campus, including the Residence Commons, Juniper House and in the Main Dining Hall’s mezzanine.

A group of young people work on various art projects at a long table.
Students creating at Juniper House.
Photo: Submitted

Each art night has a theme with the first being “home” and the second being “cultural landscapes.”

The winter semester 2023 theme is beading.

Bethany Jacobs was the MUNSU social work and Circle of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Students and Indigenous Caucus of the Canadian Federation of Students representative.

“Each painting has a story behind it.” — Bethany Jacobs

As a celebrated Anishinaabe beader, they have been facilitating weekly workshops throughout the winter semester with Ms. Tait.

They help students with their technique and hear the inspirations behind their art.

A closeup of someone beading on hide.
Beadwork on hide
Photo: Submitted

“Meeting diverse people through this program has been great,” they said. “Each painting has a story behind it and that’s what I really like. We encourage individual styles of art and each time we get a wide range of artwork to display.”

Connection

The programming piece continues to evolve as Student Residences at Memorial engages new students and artists.

The space will continue to represent the campus community coming together, engaging Indigenous artists and offering a place to learn and share.

“At the reservation, we have a round dance, our grand entry and pow wows and that’s been my inspiration,” said Ms. Tait. “I love to use bright colours and to show where I came from, and I’ve seen other students doing the same. Memorial University has helped me to connect and open up with other students – it’s all been about connection for me.”

Interested in getting involved?

Learn more via the residence life events page on the Student Residences website, the Memorial University Residences Facebook page and keep an eye out for posters on campus.

 


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