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Mentorship shape 

The Visual Arts Nova Scotia Mentorship Program reinforces one of the strongest scenes in the country.

click to enlarge A little encouragement goes a long way in the VANS mentorship program.
  • A little encouragement goes a long way in the VANS mentorship program.

The evidence is in: Halifax is special, and one of the outstanding groups of people making it so is our artists. "We have more per capita than any other city," says Becky Welter-Nolan, programming coordinator at Visual Arts Nova Scotia, a provincially funded organization dedicated to bolstering visual arts. And the reason why we have so many more than Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver? Our artists support each other. Theoretically and practically.

Welter-Nolan has no doubt about it---her work at VANS reinforces these observations. And she's optimistic---only in Halifax can you be both curator and artist without being snubbed. "Nova Scotia artists are forced to wear all the many hats," she says. "The unique and energizing thing about Nova Scotia is people's readiness and willingness to work in all aspects, trying to help their friends."

Inspired by the Nova Scotia's Writers Federation and Winnipeg's Women Artists for Women's Art, VANS launched its own mentorship program in 2006. The 10-month program matches emerging artists with professional artists to help propel their careers.Each year three emerging artists are paired up and the program culminates with a showing of their work.

Christine Waugh, a ceramicist and mixed media artist, had struggled for years with how to present her large sculptures. She felt they were too imposing. She needed to learn how to better install the pieces in order to create a "sense of wonder," the emotional response she hadn't yet mastered.

The program seeks out the best possible matches for its mentees. While the organization keeps track of artists willing to mentor, they also seek professional artists and ask them to participate.

Such was the case with Waugh's mentor Steve Higgins, who had never worked with ceramics before. He was amazed by what clay could do---Waugh was soon answering many of his questions. In the process, she realized how much she actually knew and thought about art, and as her self-perception changed her self-confidence increased. "I had trouble calling myself an artist before," she says. Despite her education, artist residency, showings and studio practice, she needed to hear it from someone established. When Higgins encouraged her to approach galleries, Waugh got the stamp of approval she needed.

Waugh is not alone. For emerging artists, early obsession with perfectionism plays a significant role in stalling artistic production. A willingness to fail sets apart the professional from the aspiring. In all the cases Welter-Nolan has seen during VANS' eight years of the program, confidence-building is the most important theme to surface. "I've seen it consistently, she says. "Recognition from peers is a huge step forward." "I do less second guessing," Waugh agrees. "I use to try out all the possibilities for stacking my towers. Now I work much faster."

In the meantime new artist-run centres are emerging and surviving across the province. Welter-Nolan cites the All-Of-Us Society for Art Presentation in Antigonish, Elephant Grass Print Collective in Annapolis Royal and (((Parentheses))) in Halifax as proof of a substantial thriving network.

The VANS Mentorship Program Exhibition at the Craig Gallery highlights the talents of Waugh, Judy Arsenault and Wes Johnston and includes work from mentors Higgins, Janice Leonard and Ilan Sandler.


VANS Mentorship Program Exhibition
To September 7
Opening reception Wed August 7, 7pm
Craig Gallery Alderney Landing, 2 Ochterloney Street

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