Unique Aboriginal hotel and art gallery gives First Nations artists new opportunities

Unique Aboriginal hotel and art gallery gives First Nations artists new opportunities

Cody Lecoy paints and carves in large scale, with some of his art being eight feet high. Finding studio space that the Aboriginal artist could afford was very difficult, so it was an ideal opportunity when he was invited to become an artist in residence at Skwachàys Lodge, which included subsidized housing.

“Having a living space and a studio space helps to keep things separate and keep things nice and tidy to work in,” says Cody, who holds a three year residency at Skwachàys Lodge, the first Aboriginal art hotel in Canada, which also doubles as a residency for emerging Aboriginal artists and hosts a fair trade art gallery.

Now Cody is advancing his artistic abilities by studying fine arts at Kwantlen Polytechnic University as well as showcasing his surrealist take on Northwest Coast art at exhibits around Vancouver.

Each hotel room in Skwachàys Lodge, which is run by the Vancouver Native Housing Society, is decorated by one of six different Aboriginal artists, giving tourists the opportunity to literally live with Aboriginal art during their visit, hopefully deepening their appreciation of the work. All the profits from the hotel go toward supplementing the 24 residential units and workshops reserved for artists like Cody.

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Central City Foundation donors were part of helping this unique hotel and residential building come to life by giving $30,000 towards the artists’ workshop, complete with benches and an air compressor, as well as creating a ceremonial room and patio where locals and visitors can experience a sweat lodge ceremony.

Many Aboriginal people in the inner city who possess artistic skills face serious barriers to opportunity, including homelessness. This program removes some of those barriers and helps the artists develop professional and personal skills that open up opportunities that could transform their lives.

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“Probably the greatest reason for exploitation is the marginalization that Aboriginal people face in our society,” says Dave Eddy, Chief Executive Officer of the Vancouver Native Housing Society. “Even though the artist might be very good in his or her depiction of art, a lack of formal schooling and education or shortage of opportunities are just some of the major barriers they face.”

In Canada, 88 per cent of First Nations, Inuit and Metis art sold in galleries and commercially result in very little benefit to the actual artist. The fair trade gallery at Skwachàys Lodge, which sells many pieces from the artists in residence as well as from artists across Canada, gives Aboriginal artists the opportunity to receive better prices and their fair share for the value of their art.

The intent is for Skwachàys is to be a vessel for aboriginal artists like Cody to improve their skills— artistic, entrepreneurial and personal— to make them more market-ready after their three year term.

The gallery gives artists in residence a home, an opportunity to build hope, and a direct line to an international crowd, which Cody said has been very valuable in his learning experience.

“I’ve become more aware of what the marketplace is like and what is expected and what speaks to that audience,” says Cody. “It’s a good place to see where I’d like to take my art.”

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Cody Lecoy’s surrealist artwork is being shown at the Urban Aboriginal Art Gallery.

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