Naomi Johnson at the PC/Cp Gathering 2017 on Lekwungen territory. Photo credit: Kirk Schwartz.
I must begin by thanking and acknowledging the presence and contribution of all those who attended the Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires Gatheringin September 2017. I must also thank France Trépanier and Chris Creighton-Kelly for the invitation to what was a unique, multi-layered, invigorating, and inspiring event. It was a bringing together of minds and hearts of those who work within the arts—curators, artists, and administrators. People who for the most part are notoriously “over doing it.” It must be acknowledged that to manage an assemblage of these professionals into one place and time is something to be applauded. So I am. Well done.
As I write this reflection I am at a distance of six months from the Primary Colours gathering. I should have put these thoughts down a long while ago. I’ll blame the delay on my somewhat recent return to my regular gig as the Artistic Director at the Woodland Cultural Centre. I can also blame it on constant sleep deprivation, thanks to my fifteen month year old son Charlie, who has yet to realize the benefits of a full nights uninterrupted sleep.
Coincidently the Primary Colours gathering was intrinsic in mentally and emotionally preparing me for returning to my duties at the Woodland Cultural Centre.
Since 2012 I’ve worked as the Artistic Director at Woodland, curating exhibitions and programming annual performing arts events. I am fortunate that my work is grounded within my own home community at Six Nations. I am very cognisant that this scenario is an outlier and not the norm for most of my Indigenous colleagues working within the arts. The staff, board, and volunteers at the WCC are currently all Indigenous. Quite frankly, there need to be more places like The Woodland Cultural Centre spread across this country.
It was with great fortune and pleasure that I was able to attend the gathering with my friend and mentor, Tom Hill. A trail-blazer whose work within the arts has improved and impacted many. Without Tom’s efforts I can confidently say I would not have the honour of holding my current position. For nearly twenty years Tom served as Museum Director, curating both the annual artistic and historic exhibitions, and programs. Whenever I’m feeling overburdened, I remind myself of what Tom did.
Prior to my in-the-round conversation centering around Indigenous Curation… for Whom? by Whom?, co-moderated with the brilliant Jaimie Isaac of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, I had opportunity to venture into several other sessions over the four day period. Each of these circles could best be described as welcoming, open, honest… and dare I say it? Decolonized. I’ve seen attempts at other gatherings in which structured and thematic conversations have been approached in a similar way, with varying degrees of success. In my humble opinion, Primary Colours nailed it. Not once did I feel the need to force myself into participation. I also never felt the need to mentally prepare myself to slog through a dense lecture. With no exaggeration each round table, conversation circle and breakout sessions left me feeling inspired, recharged and quite frankly ready to get back to work.
Naomi Johnson is a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) Bear clan from Six Nations. Naomi has had several years’ experience as a curator, arts administrator, professional artist, and community arts facilitator. Naomi has a BFA hons, Visual Arts from York University and a diploma in Cultural Resource Management from the University of Victoria. Since 2013 she has served as the Artistic Director at the Woodland Cultural Centre programming exhibitions and performance art events annually.