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An exploration of first nations artists in Alert Bay, BC : connecting to the art market from home Neufeld, Margaret Rachel McKellin

Abstract

Historically, Northwest Coast First Nations artists have been active participants in local and external trade from their communities. Today, many Northwest Coast First Nations artists work in large art centers, such as art galleries in Victoria and the Lower Mainland, and/or in their local communities. In Alert Bay, B.C., home of the 'Namgis People from the Kwakwaka'wakw Nation, artists continue to create economic ties to art centers within and beyond their local community. The objective of this study is to a) explore why some First Nations artists choose to be based in Alert Bay while participating in the art market, b) identify the mechanisms that are used by artists to develop and maintain connections to both local and non-local art market centers and, c) analyze the kinds of issues or consequences that arise as a result of being involved in these types of transactions. In conducting fieldwork over a period of one month, participant-observation and semi-structured interviews with First Nations artists living in Alert Bay, I have found that artists place importance upon belonging to an aboriginal community that influences how they develop and that they maintain economic ties within and beyond their community. I intend to show that artists seek recognition for their economic contributions as artists from community members at home while they simultaneously seek recognition for their sociocultural participation by members of the non-native art-world. By analyzing the narratives of artists, tensions over the "authenticity" of the artist, the quality and standard of their work and their perceived recognition in the community arise as they attempt to participate and gain recognition in both local and non-local economic arenas.

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