The confluence of the Nechako River and the Fraser River in Prince George is both a literal and a metaphorical meeting point, or “coming together”, that has significantly influenced Alana Bartol, the November artist-in-residence at the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George. As an artist working with natural and environmental conditions across her practice, the meeting of the rivers are evocative as a signifier of a kind of cultural meeting point as well. In the downtown area, Bartol has noted a lot of compelling work being done by local organizations around the studio space on Third Avenue, prompting her to deepen her understanding of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Prince George.
Community-engaged art is a large part of Bartol’s practice, alongside performance, video, drawing and installation. Her work often aims to make visible the invisible forces, bodies, and histories in our everyday environments. As a visual artist, questions of representation are at the forefront of any work. When artists work with people or communities specifically, these questions expand to include: who gets to be represented, how do they get represented, and who does the representing?
Her artistic process involves responding to place, which is ultimately a highly social and dialogical undertaking. Since arriving in Prince George, Bartol has taken part in conversations with Nusdeh Yoh Elementary School, The Fire Pit, met with local historians, spoke with local women at UNBC’s Inspiring Women Among Us panel, and has developed relationships with many other individuals committed to telling their own stories of Prince George. These conversations form a significant part of Bartol’s artistic research, and continuing to spend time meeting with the many different communities that make up Prince George will be an integral part of the rest of her residency.
The Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George community project Bartol is partnered on will unfold through Downtown Prince George’s Love Downtown campaign. Love Downtown is an initiative aimed to support local and independent businesses in Prince George, and Bartol has been asked to assist with developing a seasonal storefront display. As a visitor to the city, Bartol is interested in hearing from residents: what does it mean to love downtown Prince George? What role is there for love to play in developing cultural sensitivity, understanding, and inclusivity? Part of the Love Downtown project has involved looking in local archives for materials that depict cultural activity in the wintery season of the Northern city. While the project is still in development, it is anticipated that the Downtown Prince George window display at one of the downtown’s local businesses, Topaz Beads, will feature a composition of archival material.
As a spin-off to this project, the artist is also endeavouring to explore what loving downtown means to the community members that live and spend time in the downtown, particularly those whose voices are not always considered. The artist has been creating cards where individuals can write down their thoughts, feeling, and expectations of the place they live. Some of these cards have been left at downtown community service organizations such as Active Support Against Poverty, The Fire Pit, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul Drop-in Centre, and there are also cards available in the studio space for people to fill out. At the end of the month in the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George studio, the artist hopes to exhibit the responses in the cards. For the artist, a focus on examining the way the city’s context has changed over time, and where it imagines itself to be in the future is one of the compelling aspects of this project. This is perhaps a gesture towards looking at another “meeting point” as it were – the juncture between the past and the future.
In constant flow and flux, the rivers in Prince George suggest transformation and renewal rather than stagnancy. The legacy of Indigenous dispossession throughout Canada is one that we as Canadians are undoubtedly faced with today. Opening a dialogue on these issues through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the beginning of the public inquiry of missing and murdered Indigenous women (including those lost on the Highway of Tears), and addressing the ongoing politics of assimilation in resource and energy policies, locates the nation in the midst of a transition or turn. At this meeting point between past and future, between multiple cultures, the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George artist-in-residence reminds us that we have an opportunity to answer anew questions of representation, and can do it while thinking about love.