The sprawling maze-like hallways of the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers was filled to capacity last Friday with a new visual arts initiative. Temporarily serving as exhibition space for the Global Gallery, a new venue dedicated to showcasing visual arts from the immigrant perspective, the inner city location of the EMCN marks a starting point in recognizing the non-labour related benefits of Edmonton’s population influx.
Curated by artists Keith Turnbull, Ian Mulder and Pauline Ulliac, the 25 artists showcased are a diverse representation of established and emerging visual artists from Iran, Ukraine, Austria, Poland, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and India, Australia, El Salvador, Czech Republic, Croatia, Philippines, Spain, Jamaica, Uruguay, Russia, Japan and Peru.
“It’s healthy to have as many artists as possible in this first showing,” says Turnbull, a senior sculptor and chair of the Edmonton Arts Council. “At this stage, the more the better for the arts community.”
The biggest struggle so far has been maintaining outreach to the diversity of new communities and gaining access to these groups. Beginning as a conversation a year ago by a few of the lead artists in this project, such as Pedro Rodriguez De Los Santos, the Global Gallery will be temporarily moved online before finding itself in its permanent location in the yet-to-be constructed new EMCN site on 117 Avenue and 82 Street.
As a place to facilitate assistance and information for immigrants who face difficulties in transferring their professional abilities, the EMCN is taking a bold step in reaching out to immigrants who were professional artists in their countries. De Los Santos, who has been an educator and professional artist since 1990, is one of those artists who has begun to flourish since coming to Edmonton a few years ago.
During the packed opening reception, he shares, “I’ve been more focused and can identify more of myself. In Montevideo, there’s less diversity, less shows and more competition. I’m also inspired by the multiculturalism here and being able to see original works of contemporary art from around the world.”
Confronted with the lack of galleries willing to be the first to showcase artists with no professional Canadian exhibitions, the Global Gallery hopes to fill that void for the time being.
Setting up workshops on how to give gallery presentations and connecting resources on outreach and granting councils, the aim for EMCN is to pave the way for new Canadians who were professional artists to remain professional artists in this city.
“There’s a lot of talk about Edmonton as just a place for receiving immigrants,” begins EMCN Executive Director Jim Gurnett, one of the lead organizers who pushed this initiative forward this past year, “but what’s not always acknowledged is that the rest of Edmonton benefits from this diversity. Part of what I’m hearing is that artists are exploring their role as artists in this new environment, whether sharing their culture in Edmonton and enriching our city or whether they’re learning how to do art in Canada. Details as the difference in space, in light, all those things we may never think on our own. Edmonton’s quality of life will only continue to be enhanced by the works of newcomer visual artists.”
Visit emcn.ab.ca for more details on Global Gallery artists
Photo credit: Wendy Martin, 2007