Aboriginal People in the Arts: Natalie Sappier

JEDI has had great success with its Aboriginal Internship Program (AIP). Currently, JEDI is partnering with artsnb to fund their two part-time Aboriginal Outreach Officers, Natalie Sappier and Katie Nicholas. Both of the Outreach Officers have been working at artsnb for one year now and both have become an integral part of the artsnb team.

Natalie Sappier

Natalie Sappier

Natalie Sappier is an artist herself; she is a painter who is mostly known for her symbolic stories of the Wolastoq people. She likes to work with mixed media on paper, anything from acrylic to charcoal to pastel to pen.

Natalie graduated with a Diploma of Surface Design from the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design and then she went on to graduate studies there in order to understand the business side of being an artist. Graduate school really accelerated things for her as she was able to devote all of her time to her art and to her business as an artist.

“I didn’t expect to make a career out of being an artist but it all made sense once I started going,” said Natalie. “When I first started painting I knew that I wanted to do that for the rest of my life. I’m able to take all of the stories and ideas that come through my mind and express them in my art. It is very uplifting.”

“I like art because it constantly makes me feel like I’m traveling, like I’m in a different world every time I step into a gallery and look at new work that I have never seen before. I constantly feel like I am stepping into a different environment and it’s beautiful. Even when I create different work, it feels like I’m looking through a window into a different world. Art brings beauty to the madness of the world. It helps you understand things. It can take you everywhere.”

This part-time position at artsnb has been perfect for Natalie. Not only does she get to work with the Aboriginal art community in NB and share the idea that it is possible to be a working artist, she also has time to keep her practice going and to do what she is passionate about. During this past year, while participating in JEDI’s Internship program in conjunction with artsnb, she has also had time to illustrate books, teach at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, take on private commissions, and to prepare for her first solo exhibition which just wrapped up at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre in Fredericton, NB.

Natalie has grown both personally and professionally during her time at artsnb.

“My writing skills have improved,” said Natalie, “as well as my networking skills, research skills and public speaking skills. This job has given me confidence, I feel confident when I go into a group setting and talk about the work I do and the artist I am. I have learned how to listen to others and how to bring out other people’s passion so that they want to move forward towards their goals. I have also learned how to put together a really strong grant proposal which is important in this position.”

The Aboriginal Outreach Officers’ main function is to reach out to and support Aboriginal artists in New Brunswick. Natalie and Katie conduct community workshops and provide resources and support services in relation to grant programs offered by artsnb in each of the First Nation communities in NB.

The community outreach is having a positive effect. The Outreach Officers have created a database of over 170 Aboriginal artists in the province of NB. The communities have been extremely welcoming and are interested to hear about the many opportunities that are available to them in the art sector of NB. Natalie and Katie have been impressed with the craftsmanship, the passion and the potential of the Aboriginal artists in NB.

“The best part of the job is going into the communities,” said Natalie, “and being able to help the artists by mentoring them; seeing the artists’ growth is very rewarding. Most of the artists are surprised at the opportunities that are available to them and that there is help out there for them; that we’re here to guide them through the process of these applications and opportunities. I think they are very grateful for the help. They feel as though they are finally being heard and that is why it is important for us to continue on and keep that relationship strong.  The last thing we want to do is take away any hope they may have. It’s good to let them know that what they do is important and that the world wants to see it.”

Friendships have also been created as Natalie and Katie go into the communities. In fact, many of the artists have invited Natalie and Katie into their studios and homes to see what they are creating.

In addition to presentations on writing successful grants and other opportunities available through organizations like Canada Council for the Arts, Heritage Canada, various residencies and competitions, etc., Natalie and Katie also provide one-on-one mentorship to the artists. They listen to the artist’s individual goals and then help them come up with a plan so that they can achieve those goals.

Natalie Sappier

Natalie Sappier

“Because I’m an artist myself and I’ve been there,” said Natalie, “as someone who never knew that I could make a career out of what I do, I understand where they are coming from. It’s important for us to recognize them, inspire them, motivate and praise them, and give them guidance because they are capable of doing really great things in their life with their work. They will become the role models for the next generations and they are keeping First Nation stories alive.”

At the end of the internship, Natalie knows that she will continue to have a relationship with artsnb and she will continue to support the New Brunswick arts community. She also knows that JEDI will continue to support her and look for ways to support the Aboriginal artists in NB.

I feel as though I’m able to take on whatever comes my way in the arts,” said Natalie. “This internship has helped me to get my foot in the door in the New Brunswick arts community.”