Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/The East)

Flotilla: Charlottetown Art Festival Asks Tough Questions

Charlottetown’s new four-day arts-centric event, Flotilla, ran from the 21st to the 24th of September and took the form of varied events, all geared towards educating the public, showcasing artists and provoking thought. Participants were drawn from all over Canada and beyond to discuss and explore an artist-run culture.

The event centred around the poor quality of representation for minority artists and how those artists have been used to increase property values through history. This also encapsulated the lack of accessible art spaces in the Atlantic provinces. Many of the installations were set in abandoned spaces, like the old Orange Lunchbox. The former Charlottetown restaurant was transformed into an art gallery/nightclub and the long-vacant space in the Dominion building, where exhibits made use of the materials that were present in its gutted state.

There is an assumption that places that are left vacant have rent that is priced unsuitably high, leaving them under-utilized and often subject to the broken windows theory. The festival makes light of the fact, while coincidently  doubling down as a reminder that there’s a lack of art spaces in the Atlantic provinces.

Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/The East)
Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/The East)
Flotilla (Vincent Brazil/The East)
Flotilla (Vincent Brazil/The East)
Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/The East)
Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/The East)

A notable event from the weekend was the FREE STORE by Art City. Participants stocked the shelves with items, games, and small works crafted through workshops and were then able to purchase another person’s items for the cost of their own. This displayed how an artist-run culture might operate using a barter system.

Another notable experience was the Floating Warren. As much infrastructure as art installation, the Warren consisted of a floating dock system was set up and decorated  by a wide variety of artists. It proved to be a great place for people to relax on the water in a hammock while enjoying puppet shows, an ongoing radio broadcast and a belly dancer.

Flotilla (Vincent Brazil/The East)
Flotilla (Vincent Brazil/The East)
Flotilla (Vincent Brazil/The East)
Flotilla (Vincent Brazil/The East)
Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/The East)
Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/The East)

Panelists Meagan Musseau and Joanna Barker performed an offering to the land that stuck with us as well. This offering was in the form of a very emotional dance by Musseau, paired with a song beautifully sung by Barker. Afterward, the artists discussed, along with Lindsay Dobbin and Shannon Webb-Campbell what it means to them to be a contemporary indigenous artist and how Atlantic Canada informs their multidisciplinary practices.

Raven Davis also led an open conversation at the in the Confederation Centre on the current representation of indigenous artists in galleries. The conversation covered monuments to powerful figures in art spaces, such as the statue of Edward Cornwallis, which has recently caused a lot of controversy. Teresa Marshall made an offering to our land to open the conversation and asked the question, “What should be done with the statue of Edward Cornwallis?” Should it be taken down and dismantled? Simply moved to another location? Or put into a gallery of monsters, so to speak? This brought forth a lot of participation and evoked many emotions from participants. Some expressed anger and hatred, while others expressed how taking down a statue will not change what’s already happened.

Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/The East)
Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/The East)
Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/The East)
Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/The East)
Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/The East)
Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/The East)
Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/The East)
Flotilla (Dylan Roberts/The East)

Overall, Flotilla was well organized. Events were tightly scheduled and there was no lack of activity at any time. The biggest downfalls, however, were exhibits that proved difficult to find and that accessing the Glamour Cave event at Babas also became a challenge, mostly due to its overwhelming popularity. The expressed themes were of the highest importance, and left participants thinking more about what they could do to help resolve issues brought up through lectures and discussions.

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