Traditional Art with a Contemporary Twist

Today’s Indigenous youth have a strong and important voice that needs to be heard, and one Newfoundland artist is helping to preserve his culture and inform others about it through his work.

Jordan Bennett is a multi-disciplinary visual artist of Mi’kmaq and French ancestry whose work is comprised of popular and traditional cultural reflections. Through his work he aims to create an atmosphere where traditional meets contemporary.

Many indigenous artisans are known for working with traditional materials, techniques and patterns, but artists like Bennett are pushing the boundaries of what defines “traditional” and bringing their work into mainstream, contemporary art.

“We have access to resources and mediums that carry our voices over distances that were once thought to be impossible. We are learning, obtaining and preserving our cultures through what we know best: technology,” he said, adding that mediums such as video, photography and installations are helping that voice be heard.


Jordan Bennett. Photo by Candace Cunning

Bennett, who recently received the Artist of the Year award from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, will be teaming up this summer with Mi’kmaq Youth of PEI to conduct wheat pasting postering workshops with two Island reserves where they will create images to graffiti on various surfaces. The installation will be accompanied by an audio work created and recorded with the youth. The piece will be installed at Art in the Open on August 23 as a sculptural and audio installation.

Bennett also plans to do a wheat pasting and audio piece that will communicate and relate to the workshops.

“The idea for the installation stems from thinking about the displacement of indigenous cultures due to early contact,” he explained. “The work will address the immediate and future impact that the first moments of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference, the arrival of the delegates and the arrival of the first circus of more than two decades which also happened to be in town would have had on the Mi’kmaq people.”

Bennett’s piece is being curated by guest curators Dr. Heather Igloliorte, a professor at Concordia University and NSCAD professor, Dr. Carla Taunton.

The artist’s work draws people in because it is both familiar and unusual, Igloliorte said.

“I think Jordan Bennett is one of the most exciting young artists in Canada today, period.”

His work often combines elements of youth culture – hip hop, skateboarding and graffiti – with Indigenous knowledge, language and cultural practices, she said.

“It’s also what makes him perfect to conduct workshops for local Native youth like he’ll be doing in the week leading up to Art in the Open. Youth can relate to his work on so many levels,” she said. “What’s interesting to me is the dual implications of the practice, as it is used by both activist movements and graffiti subculture.”

Bennett said he looks forward to the summer art festival and said such festivals not only gives the artists a space to experiment and play with ideas, they allow for communication and dialogue between artists and the community, strengthening the connectedness and importance of art in community.

“I am very excited to be a part of this festival! It will be my first time in PEI and I am so excited to play with the space and create new work.”

Presently, the visual artist is working on a commission through imagineNATIVE and The National Film Board of Canada to undertake a large scale installation and short film to be premiered at this year’s imagineNATIVE film and media arts festival. He’s busy but he loves what he does.

I create because what I am doing makes me happy, I wake up each day and am excited to be doing what I do. I create in hopes that I may inspire others to create.”

For more information go to

[Published version can be found here: ]

Crack Alley: Part Deux

A little while back I wrote a rant about my neighbourhood, a place I now so endearingly refer to as Crack Alley. (See first Crack Alley rant here: ) It sort of reminds me of the sketchy streets that litter Montreal, only the brand of sketch is different. It’s softer, safer. I may have to rethink my endearing nickname. Suggestions?

For the time being, though, it shall be referred to as Crack Alley. There’s so much foot traffic that passes through my neighbour’s door, the house next to me that I call the Palace. I’m sure at one time or another it was a beautiful home filled with love and hope. Not anymore, sadly. Love and hope have been replaced with dealers and junkies. I think the reason I am so hard on this part of society is because it’s easier to turn my nose up in ignorance than it is to see it for what it really is – unforgiving sadness.

But, since I don’t feel like crying or blowing up into a balloon of shame for having been so lucky to have been brought up in a more suitable environment, I will keep this light. Earlier this evening, I was sitting on the front stoop watching people wander by with confused, ugly, vacant stares. Some of them were young and might still have a chance to change their paths. I wish them well, but the reality is that things being the way they are, the cycle will likely continue. Others were old and their eyes showed they’ve lived this live for far too long. I am always pleasant and smile and say hello. Some respond, but most just pass by without even realizing I’m there.

The sun was starting to set and I was lost in the beauty of the sky. The tranquility was soon interrupted when I looked to my right and saw a heavier-set kid walking towards me. He looked to be about 17. “Hey bud,” a voice behind me shouts. I turned and saw a guy with a baseball hat who looked like he probably lived around here. As Chubby slugged along he started to yell something, but he was slurring so it was hard to make him out and there seemed to be a pool of drool gathering in the corner of his mouth. “How’ve ya been?” the capped-guy asks, now standing in front of Chubs. “Drugs!! Do you have any DRUGS!?!” Chubby screamed as he stumbled to the right. “No man, sorry,” said the kid with the hat. Their interaction ended and the kid with the hat, naturally, went up to the door of the Palace.

One nice gentleman passed while I was on the stoop. Not an air of sketchiness about him. “How are ya?” he asks jovially, with a bounce in his step. “Oh, not too bad, thanks, and yerself?” I reply. We spoke briefly about the weather, commenting on how beautiful an evening it was, and off he went about his merry way. Some time passed, when suddenly I heard singing. Sure enough, the jovial gentleman was returning from whence he came. “How ya doin’ now?” he inquired in a sing-song way. “Not too bad,” I replied laughing.

Well, I suppose I should go back outside and check out what’s going on. I wouldn’t want to miss some of the inevitable hilarity that’s bound to ensue.

Until next time…

Searching for Wild Treasures

By Katie Smith

It’s not every day you meet someone who loves what they do, so when you find one who speaks with such conviction and passion about their livelihood, it makes you sit up and take notice.
Charlottetown resident Sylvain Cormier is one of those people. An Islander born and raised, Cormier is no stranger to the great outdoors. He began fishing and hunting at a young age and after his first hunting trip around the age of nine, it became clear he was a natural.


Chantrelles are one of the mushroom varieties Sylvain Cormier forages. Photo: Submitted.

Cormier and his father were driving down the road one day many years ago, when they spotted a rabbit.
“I jumped out and went in the woods and shot three. I was smiles ear to ear,” he said earlier this month. “That was it, I was hooked.”
The more time he spent in the woods, the more Cormier started picking up different plants he would find along his travels.
“While I was hunting I always picked up mushrooms and stuff like that and bring it home and research it,” he said, adding how people eventually found out what he was picking and wanted some.
Over the past few years, what started as a curiosity has bloomed into his own foraging business called Everything Wild.
Everything Wild promotes unique and wild edibles that grow all across PEI and encourages Islanders to eat locally grown foods and enjoy the wild foods that grow in our backyards. Products include mushrooms, berries, fiddleheads, cattails, shellfish and much more.
I recently had the opportunity to tag along with Cormier when he went to scout plants and locations. We met at his house and as I arrived, he was cleaning fiddleheads he’d gathered earlier.­­
I hopped in the freshly cleaned car and commented on how great it smelled, to which he replied “I had to get all the fish scales out.” I appreciated that. Then he pointed out the blue specks that still remained on the floor mat under my feet and told me they were from robin’s eggs that had fallen from a nest.
Before we left town we had to deliver some produce to one of the restaurants downtown.  Then into the woods we went.
Because Cormier is the only full-time forager on the Island, he keeps his locations a secret. We drove down one of the Island’s many red dirt roads and walked into the woods. We approached a lake and you could see and hear the trout jumping out of the water. Cormier examined the cattails that were ready to be picked. We each picked one and ate it. It tasted somewhat like fresh cucumber. It would go nicely in a salad.


Cormier holds a few fiddleheads he picked. Photo: Katie Smith

While most plants are harmless when consumed, Cormier warns that caution should be taken when foraging because you never know what is edible and what is not. He said that while some of them might only give you indigestion, some of them are deadly.
“Some plants look alike,” he said. “You have to know what you are looking for.”
It’s important to note that Cormier is an experienced forager. He knows when and where to pick his products, and also how to ensure that patch will grow again the following year.
Foraging, a continuously growing trend, promotes sustainability of PEI’s food industry by collecting plants that grow wild and not having to farm the land. More and more, chefs are opting for unique and organic Island products, and Cormier is the man they go to.
Well-known Island chef Michael Smith is one of Cormier’s biggest supporters. Smith recently wrote Cormier a letter of reference, stating that PEI is “a leading North American gastronomic destination” and how the restaurant industry continues to manifest the defining trends of what’s become a global food movement.
“Foraged products are cutting edge worldwide and increasingly are playing a resurgent role on Island menus,” Smith said, adding that Cormier is a valued member of the Island’s food scene.
“He perfectly combines his incredible initiative, idealistic perspective and detailed vision with a work ethic that is beyond compare.”
Lee Clarke and Soleil Hutchinson are organic farmers who have a company called plate it. and sell their products to local restaurants. They don’t grow everything the restaurants demand, such as fiddleheads, so Cormier provides them with his foraged goods.
In a letter to Cormier, the couple explained how eating local food has not only gained popularity, but is now at a point where the consumer demands exceed the Island’s current food supply, especially when it comes to foraged foods.
“For the past two years, Mr. Cormier has reliably provided plate it. and restaurants with a variety of very high quality wild foods, namely mushrooms, fiddle heads, sea asparagus, flowers, buds, and berries,” the farmers stated in the letter. “Everything Wild is a necessary Island business, and it is currently plate it.’s only source of wild Island foraged products.”
For more information about foraging, check out the Everything Wild Facebook page.

[Originally published in G! Magazine in the June 2014 edition.]

“A drink to the living, a toast to the dead…”

It’s Father’s Day weekend and I want to wish a wonderful and happy day to all the dads out there and to those who are no longer with us.

I wrote this last year about the day we lost our dad, and given this is the weekend is for fathers, I wanted to share it with you.


The Smith clan circa 1986

For Lou

There have been two defining moments in my life up until this point – the kind of moments where something just clicks in your head and you know that, as of that moment, your life will never be the same.

The first happened when I was 26 years old, and it’s a day I think of often.

In the early hours of a cool January morning, I awoke to the sounds of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (the cell phone ringtone version). It was my sister calling. I woke my boyfriend up and before I even answered the phone, I looked at him and said, “My dad died.” I just had a gut feeling.

My sister was living with our parents at the time and when I answered all she said was that something happened to dad and that we should get over there right away. But I knew there was no need to rush.

I can’t explain my exact emotions at that time. I felt a surge of endorphins take hold and I was instantly in a manic state. I felt shocked and scared, but oddly enough, I felt a sense of calm come over me. Like it was ok, and that things were unfolding as they should.

We got up, got dressed and I immediately lit up a cigarette and sucked it down in one haul.

It was frosty out. I remember I could see my breath as we got into the car. The five minute drive took an eternity. We sat there in silence, perhaps both knowing what we were heading towards. It was the last few minutes of my old life, and I was holding on.

As we pulled up to the house I grew up in, one of the two ambulances that arrived was pulling away. The emergency lights and sirens were off. I knew my gut feeling was right.

I went upstairs, my heart in my throat, my eyes welling up with tears. I turned the corner and headed to my parents’ bedroom.

He still had a ring around his mouth from the oxygen mask the paramedics used to try and resuscitate him. He was laying there in his underwear, pale. He was still warm, but he didn’t look like he was sleeping. His body was there, but he was gone, though not far away.

I looked around the room and the first thing I saw was the wedding picture my parents had taken on their special day in 1976. My brain began trying to process the scene in front of me. I started thinking of this very moment – writing it down in a book I one day intended to write. Shock is a funny thing.

They said he died in his sleep, peacefully. We should all be so lucky. But I remember seeing his bottle of Nitroglycerin on the floor next to his side of the bed, and I wondered if he woke up and used it before he died. I wondered if he was panicked or in pain. I wondered if he knew his time had come. I’ve never mentioned that to anyone, but it’s something I’ve always wondered about. I’d like to think he just didn’t wake up. It’s easier that way.

I don’t remember much more about that morning. I have vague recollections of my sister, my cousin and my mom being there, and my boyfriend, who ended up being my strength throughout the whole ordeal. I knew what kind of man he was after that – a loyal man who said and did the right thing at the right time. He made the experience a little bit easier for me to deal with. I will be forever grateful he was in my life at that time.

The next couple of days were hectic. I cried of course, but mostly I just felt numb. The house quickly filled with the people who would soon become my circle of support – a kind of support that, five years later, has never left me. If anything, it’s only become stronger. I am lucky. I have so many people in my life who love me and would do just about anything for me. I have to remind myself of this from time to time, when my head starts to win and the negative thoughts creep in. I think of the way Holly Golightly describes that feeling in Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s as “the mean reds”. I get the mean reds.

The wake was something out of a movie. Nearly a thousand well-wishers made their way through the funeral parlour – which was filled with flowers, something dad used to always say he wanted. As a landscaper, it made sense. And instead of the typical death dirges that usually come through the speakers – the depressing elevator-type musak – it was one of dad’s mixed CDs he made. Mostly Irish tunes. And one of his favourites, which has subsequently become one of my favourites – You Are My Sunshine.

He used to talk about how death shouldn’t be mourned, but rather should be a celebration of the deceased’s life. And his wake was just that. At one point my friend came up to me in the procession line (after waiting for two hours) and said she’d almost forgotten why she was there, as everyone was in good spirits and telling Lou stories and listening to uplifting tunes. While it was a very sad time, it was also a very positive time. I’m grateful for that day.

Following the wake, everyone came to my parents’ house. And in true Irish wake fashion, the booze was flowing. My parents’ house was always the place where everyone gathered. There’s a big deck and a bonfire pit in the back yard and for as long as I can remember, it was a place filled with happiness, warmth and caring people. A large family really, comprised of friends, neighbours and actual family members. It was a happy crew. Even on that day. It was a very emotionally-fueled time and I’ve never felt so much love in all my life. It was then I realized just what kind of impact my dad had not only on my sister, my mother and I, but on everyone who ever knew him. He was just one of those rare good and decent men who only wanted to do right by his family. He wanted to spoil his girls. And spoil us he did without apology. I miss him every day.

Ah Lou. You left us too soon, but I know you are always with us. I love you.

Heads in Jars

By Katie Smith

If you’ve ever wanted to see Stephen Harper’s head in a jar, this summer you will have the opportunity to. Well, sort of.

Halifax artist Bonita Hatcher is creating a satirical, political opera featuring Prime Minister Harper and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, where images of their heads are captured in jars and made to look like they are singing to each other.

The project is based on a technical concept called projection mapping, in which the projection surface becomes a part of the piece itself as the projected imagery is “mapped” or shaped by the features of the surface.

Large jars filled with water that have been dyed with white paint will create an opaque finish that can be used as a canvass on which to project images, Hatcher explained, adding how the shape of the container then shapes the image by allowing it to bend to its contours.

Hatcher said she liked the idea of creating something political that could be spun in a way most people would be able to access on some level.

“I think there is something interesting in the fact that common, ordinary people can clearly see through the layers of official and political antics, while the “elite” seem to be completely unaware of the nonsensical nature of it.”

Hatcher said artists don’t want to make pure political propaganda, but for those who believe it’s an artist’s job to stir up discussion of serious socially conscious topics, it’s sometimes hard to avoid propaganda and that can be frustrating.

“I think sometimes the most effective ways to penetrate social-political topics is via the injection of satire,” she said. “My concepts are more about being a bit cheeky. I wanted this work to be fun to do and fun to watch,” she said.

“In choosing subject matter the already laughable antagonistic relationship between Harper and Trudeau was just ripe, she said, adding the amount of time, money and public debate over the issue of marijuana seems a lot less pressing than many of the urgent social and economical issues facing our country.”

Bonita Hatcher with her shaved beaver. Submitted photo.

 Hatcher is no stranger to politically-charged art, having created pieces in the past such as Laid Bare – a shaved taxidermy beaver. This was part of a show curated by Becka Viau, Sovereignty, which focuses on the notion of Canada’s sovereignty.

Viau, who is also the co-coordinator for Art in the Open, thinks Hatcher’s piece is fitting for this year’s festival, considering this year marks 150 years since the Charlottetown Conference.

“Bonita’s installation will bring elements of science-fiction and political satire. As we are celebrating the 1864 conference, a little bit of fun political engagement seems appropriate,” she said. “Her multimedia installations tackle current issues by adding a splash of Comedy to the serious.”

Art in the Open, a festival that highlights Charlottetown’s visual art scene, downtown heritage spaces, exhibition venues and diverse cultural traditions, will take place August 23 from 4 p.m. to midnight. For more information, visit

[Published article can be found here: ]

A Letter to Whomever Re: Crack Alley


Charlottetown, May 2, 2014, 1:05 a.m.

This one goes out to Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee, the Charlottetown City Councilors and the Charlottetown Police Department.


My name is Katie Smith and I live on Euston Street. I am writing this letter to explain why I refer to this part of town as “Crack Alley” and why it’s becoming rather embarrassing when people ask me where I hang my hat.

Tonight, like many nights, I awoke to what sounded like bottles smashing, and several people – adults, no less – screaming like lunatics outside my window. They often walk back and forth, not going anywhere. Or they just hang out near the end of our driveway, drinking, yelling and carrying on. They live and hang out next door and are constantly causing a disturbance.

The Police Department is well aware of this house, as on many occasions there’s been at least one or two police cars parked outside, and officers at the door talking to the tenants. Tonight was no exception. After a few minutes of the screaming and yelling, a police car pulls up. Since I wasn’t able to sleep, I decided to look out the window for a few minutes (hey, it’s better than TV!) to see what was going on. I could hear one man screaming while he ran around the corner to an even sketchier part of Crack Alley, while two officers ran after him. All the while, this girl – let’s call her excitable – this excitable girl was screaming crazy nonsense. Now, I know this girl is definitely smoking something a-la-Rob-Ford because I served her last year at the restaurant I used to work at and she and her as equally shady friend walked out on their bill (and left their table in a state you might only expect from a willful, misbehaved child). I confronted her one day when I saw her outside my house and she was apologetic and started rambling on and on about something crazy. She was clearly an unstable disaster, so I let her be.


Anyway, the officers caught up with the man and put him in the car. I then heard one officer call him “Leonard” and ask him if there were any warrants out for his arrest. He must have said no, because the officer said, “Ok, anything else?” or something along those lines. “Just like in the movies,” I thought. I mean, that’s obviously protocol. Chase a guy, catch him, put him in the back of the police car, and trust he will tell you the truth about pending warrants and prior arrests. Why wouldn’t the officer believe him?

After this display of due diligence, a paddy wagon pulls up and one of the officers said, “It’s all taken care of, we got it” (again, not verbatim) and then they appeared to have a chit-chat. Probably about the weather, as it was still raining a little from the storm earlier. At this point I lost interest and decided to write to you fine folk.

Here’s another fun instance for you – One night this winter two men came out of the house next door screaming at each other. I went to the window to see what the stir was, and then they started grappling and fall on the ground. One gentleman gets up and starts punching and kicking the other gentleman. I finally yelled down for them to get out of there when the man standing skull-fucks* the other man.
*Pardon the foul language, but I’m pretty sure when a boot makes contact with a head, it’s called skull-fucking. Am I right?!

I’m sure the aforementioned incidents are fairly common around the mean streets of Charlottetown so they in no way have led me to calling my ‘hood Crack Alley. Well, I shouldn’t say they weren’t a factor in my labelling. The neighbours and their friends don’t seem quite right. I’m pretty certain most of them don’t have jobs. I know they are at least considered suspicious by the police department. And they constantly roam the streets at all hours of the day and night, screaming, fighting and breaking stuff.

So why, then, do I write this letter and call my neighbourhood Crack Alley? Well, I’ll tell you why.

My roommate and his two little girls were walking out our door to their car, when one guy from the pack of ne’er-do-wells came up to ask him if he wanted to buy some crack, you know, to be thoughtful and considerate. You can never have enough crack, apparently. He was just being neighbourly, really. Oh, I misspoke, he actually said, “You want some fucking crack?” Fucking. Crack.

After hearing that, my suspicions were confirmed: We live next door to crack heads. What is this place? Crack Alley or something? Indeed it is.

Ok, that’s my piece. Since you’re probably pretty sure my neighbours are at the very least really bad drunks and even more likely using and/or dealing crack, and who cause a LOT of disturbance, I ask you, what are you going to do about this problem?

I don’t feel totally safe here, and to be honest, I worry our cars will get smashed. You never know. What if Leonard is out and about again one night and is trying to throw a bottle at someone’s head, but misses his target and hits my car? Not cool, Leonard. Not cool at all.

Well, I guess it’s time to end this rant because unlike Leonard & Co., I must get up for work in the morning.



Katie Smith

Bringing Art to the Community

By Katie Smith

When it comes to the art scene on PEI, one artist stands out in terms of her vision, work-ethic, and creativity; an artist who continues to strive for a thriving arts community that can be enjoyed by all.
Contemporary and visual artist Becka Viau was recently named along with 22 women across the country as a bold visionary for the work she’s done for her community. The selected women will present their hopes and plans for Canada’s future in a vision paper that will be published in an anthology. This fall they will meet in Charlottetown for A Bold Vision conference, much like the 23 men did 150 years ago at the Charlottetown Conference when their vision led to the formation of Canada.
Viau said this honour means a lot to her.
“As someone who works diligently behind the scenes, for and with the artistic community on PEI, this honour will give me a chance to bring some of the ideas, morals and passions that drive my work,” she said. “This is a privilege that not many get. It will also be amazing to collaborate with the other 22 visionaries to create the national vision.”


Becka Viau. Submitted photo.

Allison Cooke, who sits on the board of the Women’s Network PEI, nominated Viau as a Bold Visionary because she always puts her community first and is a natural leader and advocate for the community through both her artwork and public service.
“Becka is paving the way for future generations on PEI by opening conversations and getting people to question the world around them. It is through these conversations, curiosities and debates that she feels positive change can happen.”
Viau, who received her Masters of Fine Arts degree in 2013 at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, has worked as a curator, educator and coordinator of art collectives. She believes art should be accessible to everyone, and that’s what she aims for in her work.
“You can talk about all sorts of complex and important things, but if people don’t find it accessible to them, no one will consider it, then what is the point? Sure, I do make art that is complex, conceptual and hopefully thought-provoking, but my work has to be reachable in some way by the general, non-art consumer.”
Art is about getting people talking, she said.
“(It) starts conversation, dialogue. And unless you can engage with the audience, no one will talk about it, about how it impacted them or didn’t’ impact them. I make art about the world around me, about my own experiences and how they relate to the world.”
One of her recent projects was a row of hay bales set up outside of the Confederation Centre of the Arts, a curated piece that was part of the Art Gallery’s exhibition, Somewheres, which reflects the multiplicity and uncertain origin of the Maritime identity, and featured 13 artists from the region.


Photo by Becka Viau

The Gallery’s curator, Pan Wendt, said Viau is a unique artist who energizes the art community on the Island.
“I give Becka a lot of credit for leading and challenging young artists in PEI. Her intensity, intelligence, creativity – they’re all important, but also the way she kind of demonstrated a new model for what it means to be an artist here. (She is) an activist, an organizer, a public thinker.”
Wendt works with Viau on various art projects around the city, such as the one-day annual summer arts festival, Art in the Open. The festival is put on by the not-for-profit, artist-run centre Viau started a few years back, called this town is small.
Wendt said he recently nominated Viau for the Sobey Art Award – Canada’s leading award for contemporary Canadian art given each year to an artist aged 40 or under.
“I nominated her for the Sobey because she continues to make great work and I see her as having long-term impact as a visual artist.”
After she finished her Masters program, Viau returned to the Island, the place she’s called home for most of her life. The work she’s done since her return brings hope to other Island artists, such as Monica Lacey.
Lacey said it was encouraging to know Viau was back on the Island getting the art community going.
“She really acted as a catalyst to bring together a contemporary art community in Charlottetown, and brought to the table the kind of perseverance and dedication that is crucial for sustaining new projects,” she said. “The work that she’s done has made it possible for me and other artists to return to PEI and feel we have support, that we have a community and that there are opportunities here.”
Belfast resident and textile artist Rilla Marshall agrees.
“I feel Becka has re-invigorated the visual arts community of Charlottetown through her dedication, thoughtfulness and hard work with this town is small and the larger arts community on PEI. She is committed to creating viable opportunities for contemporary artists to showcase their work on PEI while opening up dialogues with other arts communities and organizations in Atlantic Canada.”
Viau is currently sending one of her projects on tour through the north eastern United States and the Atlantic provinces. The exhibition, Acadie Mythique, showcases works from artists spanning from Quebec and Maine and into the Atlantic provinces.
She is also about to launch a summer project called Agrarian Monuments which involves living installations/sculptures in hay fields across rural PEI.
Agrarian Monuments is part of the PEI Council of the Arts Sesquicentennial Public Art Commissions, funded by the PEI 2014 fund.
To find out more about the work Viau is doing, visit her website at

[Published in G! Magazine – Link no longer works]

Mapping the Island’s shorelines

By Katie Smith

The Island’s landscape is in a constant state of change. While it’s hard to see this change from one day to the next, it become quite obvious when comparing current maps of Prince Edward Island to ones from last century.

Textile artist and hand weaver Rilla Marshall focuses much of her weaving practice around exploring and mapping changes to Atlantic Canada’s shorelines.

The NSCAD graduate is specifically interested in the potential changes that might come as a result of how Islanders choose to develop the shorelines. She is currently working with researchers at UPEI collecting data that can predict the potential rise in the sea level around Victoria Park in Charlottetown.

The research tools are able to predict what the area might look like in 90 years from now, she said last month at her home in Belfast – a brightly lit, century-old renovated school house where she also runs her textile business, Marshall Arts.

“My work has always been referring back to the landscape,” she said. “I want to take this idea of plotting the changes to the shoreline using mapping and actually apply that to the (physical) landscape around Victoria Park.”

She explained how she will use stakes and ropes to physically show what the shoreline might look like in the future.


Rilla Marshall, photo credit unknown.

Marshall’s project will be curated by Pan Wendt of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery and featured this summer during Art in the Open’s main event taking place in Charlottetown August 23 from 4 p.m. to midnight.

“Rilla Marshall’s project is a great example of how visual art can comment powerfully on the issues facing us,” Wendt said.

Marshall said one-day art festivals such as this one have very much become a platform for contemporary artists to show their work.

“Art in the the Open is another way to not only get artwork out there, but for it to be seen by people who may never have walked into a gallery in their life,” she said.

With events like the festival’s March of the Crows parade, it’s very much about community involvement, she explained.

“It’s also about using art as a catalyst to community-building. It’s like Charlottetown becomes a completely different place, and people are experiencing art in a new and dynamic way,” she said. “It also shows what can be done with a public space.”

Becka Viau, the festival’s co-coordinator, said she is excited for Marshall to be involved once again this year.

“Her work brings a delicate yet very poignant perspective on place in time.”

For more information about Art in the Open visit

[Here’s the link to the published article:

Doors of Reflection – Island artist builds world between worlds

Doors of Reflection
Island artist builds world between worlds

By Katie Smith

As children we can spend hours a day playing make-believe in a fort made from blankets or cardboard boxes, letting our imaginations take over. Inside these magical places we are brought to a different land, removed from the outside world.

As we get older and get wrapped up in our day-to-day lives, we rarely allow ourselves the time to sit back, reflect and let our minds wander.

Island artist Monica Lacey creates installations that allow the viewers to go inside and become part of the experience.

The Bonshaw native is building such a piece for this year’s summer festival, Art in the Open, taking place in Charlottetown on August 23.

Inspired by the classic children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, “In-Door/Out-Door” will bring people to another world, if only for a moment.


Artist Monica Lacey shows a mock-up of what will be a 10-foot structure. Photo by Monica Lacey.

The 10-foot structure will have four doors with porch lights above them and the doors all lead to a small room, with enough space for one or two people. Each person can enter and exit through any door of their choosing.

Lacey said the part of Lewis’ series that always stuck with her was when the kids travelled to the fantasy world of Narnia, they would go to a world between worlds.

“It’s this quiet place where you make decisions, and how every choice you make next changes the outcome,” she explained, saying her project is a micro-version of that idea.

“If you went out through one door, then back out the same door that changes things,” she said. “It’s kind of a metaphor about how we move through the world.”

The “In-Door/Out-Door” installation caught the interest of Pan Wendt, The Confederation Centre Art Gallery’s curator.

“I was immediately attracted to this project because of its economy, the beautiful simplicity of the idea, and the open-ended way Monica approached the idea of transformation,” he said. “I think the piece presents the viewer with an engaging question.”

This will be Lacey’s second year participating in Art in the Open, a festival she is grateful for and said is a crucial part of the Island’s art scene.

“It’s probably the most important development in the art scene in Charlottetown in years,” she said. “It’s alerting the public to the fact that there are contemporary artists living here and that it is important and it makes life a bit more magical.”

Art is as important to life as sports or music, Lacey said, adding festivals help introduce the public to different forms of art and expression.

“To me, it’s a vocabulary for understand what it means to be alive and everything that goes into that. It’s a language that we can use to describe things we can’t describe any other way. Or speak to feelings or thoughts that can’t be described any other way.

Art is for everybody, she said.

“If you don’t think you’re into art, I think maybe you just haven’t found the kind that appeals to you or the artist that speaks to you, that you identify with. You just have to keep looking.”

The public is welcome to see Lacey’s piece this summer during Art in the Open, which runs from 4 p.m. to midnight. For more information, visit

[Here’s the link to the published article – they changed the headline; I liked mine better 🙂

And the gold medal goes to…

Another Olympic games have come and gone and Canadians have never been more proud of their athletes. With a total of 10 gold medals, Canada placed third in the gold standings, behind Russia and Norway.

It wasn’t since the Toronto Blue Jays won the ’92 World Series that I’ve felt as excited for a team to win as I did when the Canadian Women’s Hockey team came back and took the gold from the Americans. I jumped up so fast I became light-headed and thought the excitement would make me pass out.

The women’s bob-sleigh win helped put PEI on the map, with Summerside’s Heather Moyse bringing home the gold.

And then of course, the men’s hockey finals. When Canada beat the US in the semi-finals, I had a good feeling we’d get another gold…and sure enough, the boys made us proud the way the girls did. And Sid’s beautiful goal made up for his not-so-awesome showing during the rest of the games.

But not everyone was pumped about the number one sporting event in the world.

There was a lot of hesitation to support this year’s Olympics because of Russia’s politics, specifically their laws that prohibit gay rights.

I get it. We don’t want to support countries that limit rights to some of their citizens (perhaps we should stop trade with China altogether? Or the US, for that matter?). But I’m not sure boycotting an event where many gay athletes were competing at is the right way to make a point or take a stand.

I’m pretty sure Putin doesn’t care who watched the games and who didn’t. But you know who you ARE offending by not supporting the games? The athletes. The men and women who train tirelessly to be the best they can be at their craft.

Sports are just as important to a society as music or the arts. They bring countries together and bring us pride and put our country in the foreground in a good, positive light. And I couldn’t be prouder.

Just a thought.

What do you think?