Art That Matters

Edmonton’s first indigenous artist in residence, Dawn Marie Marchand.

Photography Chris Wedman

A¬†mass of paper butterflies flew across a downtown parking space in Dawn Marie Marchand’s installation for {Park}ing Day last year. The 1,186 butterflies were a colourful mass, slowly breaking apart across the concrete. Each one represented an aboriginal woman, missing or murdered, in this country. Despite starting as an independent project, her parking space became a community talking point.

“All we can do is start the conversation or put some light on it,” says Marchand.

The Cree Mtis artist has a new platform from which to create that conversation. Marchand started as the city’s first indigenous artist in residence in July. It’s a collaboration between the city’s Indigenous Relations Office and the Edmonton Arts Council, and is a rare opportunity to bring forward conversations and perspectives this city needs – something that was highlighted in Avenue‘s August cover story on the lack of indigenous public art in the city.

“I think it’s super important that a city is allowing an artist to create these conversations,” says Marchand. “And to trust that I’ll do it in a way that is beautiful.” ¬†

Marchand works to hold beauty in tandem with historical significance. Her Edmonton Treaty 6 soccer ball, created earlier this year, brought treaty education to a new forum. The ball is part of the Free Footie program – launched by Top 40 Under 40 alumnus Tim Adams – which provided 1,300 soccer balls to inner city kids. Marchand’s image displayed 13 horses, each representing a tribe part of Edmonton Treaty 6 territory.

Marchand says she will use her residency to bring out the oral history of the Papaschase – a band that has struggled for official recognition, but has great historical connection to the story of this region – and the Mtis oral history of the Garneau region. She has two large-scale paintings planned to bring out the historical and contemporary stories of being indigenous in the city.

Marchand knows many of those stories first-hand. She has worked since 2005 as an artist in this city. As a single mother who has faced homelessness, she has had to overcome the barriers that many face in the art world.

“I wish sometimes I wasn’t an artist, but at the same time it’s the only thing I’m really passionate about in my life. It’s the only thing where I feel comfortable and confident even if I’m not making money at it.”

As a member of the Cold Lake First Nation, she grew up with her family moving around Alberta’s northeast for work. Marchand was a student at the Boreal Forest Institute for the Indigenous Arts in Fort McMurray, close to the area where she grew up.

She credits this environment with her passion for mentorship, especially for people who may not consider themselves artists and face barriers.

“I really believe barriers can be overcome through mentorship,” she says. “I’m evolving as I’m mentoring others.”

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