Aboriginal People in the Arts: Katie Nicholas

JEDI’s Aboriginal Internship Program (AIP) is funding two part-time Aboriginal Outreach Officers, Natalie Sappier and Katie Nicholas at artsnb, in Fredericton, NB. Both of the Outreach Officers have been working at artsnb for one year now and both are an important part of the artsnb team.

Katie Nicholas

Katie Nicholas

Katie Nicholas decided to apply for the program after her brother sent her some information about the job opening.

“When I read the job description, I really wanted to apply and get it,” said Katie. “I come from a place, where as an Aboriginal artist, I was always told that art wasn’t the way to go and that you can’t have a career in art. I had just graduated from the Aboriginal Visual Arts program at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design and I saw it as an opportunity to not only encourage the Aboriginal arts but to also encourage the Aboriginal people to get the artwork off of the reserve and into a more public eye. It’s important to make sure that the artwork gets out in the public to help preserve our culture, traditions and practices.”

Katie is an artist who works in many mediums. She works in mixed media, traditional fine crafts and is also a photographer.

“I’m an artist because that’s what comes natural to me; that’s when I’m the happiest, when I’m working and making art,” said Katie. “I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. It’s something I have to do. Something inside of me tells me that this is what I need to be doing.”

“I love that art allows me to express myself. Sometimes when I can’t express myself verbally or emotionally I can always do it on canvas or through photography or through ash in some way. By being a traditional arts craftsperson I’m carrying on the teachings from my elders and grandparents. Through photography and painting, I’m doing what I can to preserve the culture and help it grow and keep it thriving so it doesn’t just fade away. I feel a responsibility with my basketry because I know how to do it and it is something that needs to be carried on. The elders that are doing it now won’t be doing it forever.”

The Aboriginal Outreach Officers’ main function is to connect with the First Nation communities in NB and to conduct workshops there. The workshops describe the programs and resources that are available at artsnb and include help with writing successful grant applications. The Outreach Officers also work one-on-one with the individual artists to provide mentorship and support.

“The Aboriginal Internship Program has really allowed me to do exactly what I want to do, which is to lead and mentor other Aboriginal artists who are where I was,” said Katie. “It has allowed me to give hope to people when it comes to their artwork and it has allowed me to learn about community outreach. I’ve learned about how to approach a community and how-to mentor people. It’s provided me with a lot of connections that I wouldn’t have otherwise and our mutual goal is to help people and I really love that. I wish that I had had help when I was a struggling artist.”

One of Katie's paintings

One of Katie's paintings

“The best part of the job is working with the communities and artists one-on-one; helping them and giving them advice on where they want to go. The job has turned into more than I expected. It’s so fulfilling.”

The Outreach Officers have created a database of over 170 Aboriginal artists in the province of NB. The communities are really interested to hear about the opportunities that are available in the art sector of NB.

“The small communities surprised me because they have so many artists and craftspeople with a high level of talent,” said Katie. “Some of the small communities are really active with their artwork. Being a First Nation artist myself, I know how passionate and driven we are, so I went into the communities expecting that of them and they didn’t let me down.”

“The Aboriginal artists are benefiting from our positions because we are showing them that they can make a living from doing what they do. When we help them succeed, it’s a way to help them become self-sustaining; it’s a way to make a living. Natalie and I are both examples of that and it’s great to show them it can be done. The raw talent is there and all you need to do is show them the direction. We’re there to support them, we’re constantly in contact with them, sending them information, and helping them with whatever they need help with.”

One of Katie's baskets

One of Katie's baskets

At the end of the internship, Katie knows that she has many opportunities open to her, such as community outreach positions, recruiting, teaching, or continuing on at artsnb. Her confidence has increased since she started the position and now she feels like she could apply for a lot of different jobs.

“I have the confidence to start working towards goals and dreams that I have, such as opening an art centre or gallery. This position has given me a lot of confidence to take on independent endeavours and now I have the resources to make that work. If I had a chance to do recruiting for the craft school or community outreach I would do that. I could also continue working in the studio and continue mentorship for Aboriginal artists independently.”

Katie would definitely recommend the Aboriginal Internship Program to others and has some great advice.

“I feel like this program gives you a great opportunity to build on skills that you already have and to learn skills you never knew you needed. Use your time well and take it seriously. Just give it your all. Finally, don’t be afraid to speak up if you have a good idea. Chances are it will be supported.”