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Artists helping artists
Visiting artist offers advice about how to implement mentorship program

Nicole Garbutt
Northern News Services
Published Tuesday, December 11, 2012

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE
Imagine you have always had a desire to create art. You have taken classes, completed the assignments, followed instructions, but have not produced anything you are proud of.

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Members of the Yellowknife arts community Janet Procure, left, Kris Schlagintweit, Astrid Kruse, Dianne Mercredi and Marie-Andree Bedard, discuss the Open Studio mentorship program on Sunday afternoon at the Yellowknife Artist Run Community Centre. Betty Spackman, founding director of the program, talked about the potential of establishing the initiative in Yellowknife. - Nicole Garbutt/NNSL photo

Now imagine a relaxing space where you can create whatever you want while experienced artists offer constructive criticism.

This is the concept explored in Betty Spackman's Open Studio mentorship program, which was discussed by members of the Aurora Arts Society at the Yellowknife Artist Run Community Centre (ARCC) on Sunday afternoon.

Spackman is in Yellowknife to help the artists start the program here after she established the creative initiative in Langley, B.C., and Medicine Hat, Alta.

"Artists mentoring others, it makes the community stronger," Spackman said. "They are not art classes but community builders and can give voice to established artists, as well as bring those closeted artists out of the corner into a safe space."

The core of the program is critique.

"The largest concern I hear from artists is they are not getting realistic critique," Spackman said.

"At home they either hear that everything they make is amazing, which they know it isn't, or they are told to get a real job. Neither is helpful to grow."

The mentorship program is an independent project designed for the community, not for any single arts organization, she said, it is a way to bridge the gaps and competition that some groups might have.

The Aurora Arts Society funded Spackman's trip North. Society members are discussing options for monitoring the administrative side of the program, but a decision about implementing the program will probably not be made until January, according to society president Marcus Jackson.

"We will be looking at it as a board and deciding. The open studio will most likely be implemented regardless of if we take it on or not," Jackson said.

Spackman offered a public discussion about the program at the ARCC on Saturday. Artists who expressed an interest in learning how to become mentors for the program were welcomed back the following day.

About 14 individuals returned, ready to discuss the feasibility of starting the program.

"The mentors are hopefully more experienced artists, and can be in a position to help, but not every artist makes a good mentor," Spackman said.

The tentative plan for the group is to meet for about a month in the new year to complete mentorship training.

From there, residents interested in being mentored would be able to register. Up to eight people are assigned to each mentor.

"Everybody, including the mentor, works individually on their projects, within a three-hour session," Spackman said. "The group members can see and experience other artists' processes and challenges."

Spackman said the nice thing about the program is there is no end to it and therefore no pressure to create by a deadline.

"The artists grow at their own pace," she said.

The program involves different open studios running simultaneously. Participants can choose which ones to sign up for, based on the artist mentor who will be facilitating it and the different artistic media involved.

Spackman is scheduled to present the Open Studio concept to the board of the Aurora Arts Society this evening for further discussion.

Anyone interested in learning more can attend the Aurora Arts Society social, scheduled for 7 p.m. tomorrow night at the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre.

Spackman will be giving an artist talk on her own work shortly after the social begins and will be available for questions following her presentation.

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