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Cool Jobs Q&A: Native art curator

Nadine St-Louis recognized that Aboriginal artists have world-class talent, and she’s giving them the platform they need


 
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Nadine St-Louis speaks to artist Dominique Normand about her painting, Rein des Métis. // Photograph by Roger Lemoyne

 

NADINE ST-LOUIS, 47

How did you get into this field?

On a contract with the Canada Council for the Arts, I mapped artists in the Innu territory, where my family comes from. I found world-class talent. The council said, “What do they need?” I said they need a platform. They need representation. They need life skills. They need access to markets. So I founded a not-for-profit Aboriginal arts organization that would do that.

What education or skills do you have?

I have a bachelor of fine arts from Concordia University. I studied art history in graduate school, and now I’m doing my M.B.A. on cultural organization development.

Describe a typical day on the job.

We promote, distribute and sell the art of 11 Nations of Quebec through a gallery and e-commerce. We do professional development with the artists, and we produce cultural events. We generate an economy for the artists by selling products like cards and reproductions. When I go to sleep, I feel good about the hope, the inspiration and the creation that we bring together.

What is your most memorable moment?

One of the defining moments was when I realized my role would evolve into one of an Aboriginal social entrepreneur. After my Eleven Nations exhibition in Montreal in 2012, I needed to turn a temporary exhibition into a permanent social economy project to ensure Aboriginal artists from Quebec had a permanent presence accessible to markets and buyers.

What are the pros and cons?

The hard thing is that I work with artists who are sometimes 3,000 km away. The communication with the remote communities is difficult. Bringing diversity together, you need a lot of understanding of the cultural differences. A pro, for example, is when I called the Royal Canadian Mint and asked why there are no Aboriginal artists on the collectors’ coins in Quebec. And they said, “We don’t know where to find them.” I said, “Come down to my exhibition.” Four of our artists were selected to produce collectors’ coins. That’s an astounding achievement, not just for us, but for the artists.

What advice do you have for potential curators?

Internships. Start with event management. Volunteer at a summer festival. Go to the producers and say, “I want to learn about logistics. I want to learn about timelines. I want to learn about budgets.”


 

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