Little known fact: Fundy National Park was once home to a thriving art school. The former location of the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design (NBCCD), then known as the New Brunswick School of Arts & Crafts, is now hidden in the park, devoid of buildings and only accessible to a small group of knowledgeable park interpreters. This past summer, through the pioneering efforts of Craft NB and Fundy Park, the park once again hosted artisans for the Beneath the Surface residency.
If small collaborations can have huge effects, you can imagine the waves made by institutions and organizations teaming up. Craft NB, under the leadership of Alison Murphy, reached out to Fundy National Park to discuss the possibility of a summer residency for their members. Unlike most residencies, artists would spend five days in the park absorbing knowledge and then go back home to create. This relieved the pressure to come up with ideas on the spot and allowed for the slow absorption of new concepts.
After many months of preparations – partnerships formed through the tireless efforts of Craft NB staff, applications developed by their exhibitions committee, artists selected by a jury of professionals, and guest speakers recruited from the vibrant personalities of the art community – this residency came to pass in summer 2017.
The residency opened up lines of communication between artists and scientists. Park interpreters, a phenomenal resource of our National Parks, took the group of 19 craftspeople on journeys through some of their favourite park environments. Sharing knowledge and science, so different from a lecture in a university hall, this experience was a quest for information in what suddenly seemed like a brand new and exotic environment. Some artists even made pilgrimage to the exact site of the old craft school.
The artists spent several months building work after they returned home. While they each made individual works, they had meetings for critique throughout the process. An under-appreciated form of collaboration, show-and-tell can spark whole new ways of working. This continuous churning of ideas through a group was instrumental in creating more innovative work. The diverse group of craftspeople, made up in large part of NBCCD alumni, included Allison Green, Alyson Brown, Deborah Payne, Emily Blair, Izabell Fagan, Jacqueline Bourque, Jamie Brown, Joe Pach, Kate White, Maria Guevara, Matt Watkins, Patty Goodine, Phil Savage, Ralph Simpson, Gesig Isaac, Jeanette Henry, Peter Powning, Shinaid McGillivray, and Steve Jones.
When the artwork was complete, and curated by Executive Director of the Canadian Craft’s Federation Maegen Black, the efforts of the staff at the various galleries on the tour schedule made certain that the work was presented in the best light possible. Still touring as we speak, Beneath the Surface started at the UNB Art Centre, moved to the Art & Culture Centre of Sussex, and is currently being enjoyed at the NB Museum until April, before travelling to Restigouche Gallery. The exhibition brought in one of the largest opening day audience the NB Museum has ever seen, and at the opening, the Sheila Hugh Mackay Foundation presented the museum with funding to continue exhibiting works of cultural significance. Institutions that work together can succeed together too.
Craft NB and Fundy National Park are hoping to bring a second iteration of this project into being in 2019. Students and craftspeople who are interested can apply for juried membership with Craft NB so they can be considered for inclusion.
What could seem at the outset like a monumental goal was made surmountable by the joint efforts of enthusiastic institutions and individuals. Artists seeking ways to make a splash in a very big pool could take inspiration from this project – find organizations that foster collaboration and cooperation, and start thinking about success as a team sport.
Words by Allison Green Photos by Brett MacFadyen