This article has been written with the support of the High Commission of Canada.
We take a look back at highlights from the High Commission of Canada's #CanadaGoesDigital programme
When the Covid-19 pandemic brought live events to a screeching halt in early 2020, the High Commission of Canada quickly adapted their forthcoming programme into a series of online offerings that emphasised the continued importance of cultural dialogue between the UK and Canada – a connection that only grew in importance during this period of great anxiety and isolation.
The #CanadaGoesDigital project shone a light on an incredible array of artists, writers and curators creating work that spoke to global issues; challenged prevailing assumptions; and imagined better futures for us all. Revisit highlights from the programme below and experience some of the best of what Canada has to offer, wherever you are in the world.
The Moon Festival provided a month of digital content celebrating the brightest rock in the sky and its relevance to contemporary and historical Canadian culture, with original content as well as existing work across film, theatre, visual art and much more. 'We launched the Moon Festival in 2019 to strategically coincide with the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.' Creative Director Livia Filotico explains about its origins. 'But for us it was about culture and art and the moon's power to push boundaries across cultures and disciplines from the beginning.'
With events planned and a programme ready to go for 2020 before the pandemic hit, the team had to work quickly to adapt, partnering with the High Commission to ensure that there was an effective way to shift their focus. Thankfully, as a huge supporter and participant of the festival in its inaugural year, Canadian author Margaret Atwood was happy to be on board as part of this new digital programme.
'Programming for digital content is very different from live experiences because you're not dealing with a physical relationship between audiences and creatives,' Filotico says. 'It's not an event, it's a project and audiences engage with content in a very different way. So we had to rethink the content completely while keeping the heart of the festival alive. Margaret Atwood was incredibly supportive again thankfully. She will be revealing an unpublished moon-themed story via video to open the festival.'
'We also have Alanna Mitchell, a journalist from Canada. She and I will be having a conversation about the sea and the moon. Alanna wrote a book called Sea Sick. Her thing is the sea. Mine is the moon so we thought we would do this interview together and see how our passions can come together in the Canadian landscape.'
Cape Dorset Video Initiative
Alongside the launch of the second stage of the #CanadaGoesDigital campaign, the High Commission announced the Cape Dorset Video Initiative, a partnership with the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative which involved a series of eight video shorts designed to be shared on social media platforms and presented as a whole on the Culture Canada website. The videos, approximately one minute in length, each featured various aspects of Inuit art and culture, providing an insight into a fascinating medium of work.
The West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative operates the Kinngait Studios at the Kenojuak Cultural Centre in Kinngait, and also maintains a Toronto marketing division office, Dorset Fine Arts, which is responsible for interfacing with galleries, museums, cultural professionals, Inuit art enthusiasts and the art market globally. The role of West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative further includes communications, promotion, advocacy, government relations and special projects as related to the Inuit art of Kinngait.
From September to December, the eight videos were shared online on the Culture Canada website on a frequent basis, looking at themes such as the environment, history and culture. The first of these videos – West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative: Six Decades of Inuit Art – provides an illustrated overview of the organisation's history and accomplishments from early formation to now, focusing on its unique business model and community ownership.
Honour Song – a showcase produced and curated by the sākihiwē festival, in partnership with the High Commission of Canada in the UK – featured a series of digital exchanges between up-and-coming Inuit, First Nations and Métis musicians, and the pioneering artists who came before them. Featuring the likes of iskwē and Kinnie Starr, PIQSIQ and Susan Aglukark, Elisapie and Sugluk and William Prince's tribute to his father, each performance allowed the artists to share what they have in common, but also reflect upon the diversity of Indigenous communities across Canada, and what has changed from one generation to the next.
A vital component of Honour Song was about paying tribute to the previous generation of artists who did not receive the same financial support or exposure given to contemporary Indigenous artists, but helped pave the way to this progress. 'A lot of these trailblazers came up just performing for their home communities oftentimes, or smaller markets,' says Alan Greyeyes, the Director of the sākihiwē festival and a member of the Peguis First Nation. 'It's only in the last ten years that we have more Indigenous headliners like A Tribe Called Red, Tanya Tagaq, Elisapie and Snotty Nose Rez Kids. It's an opportunity for these artists to give back to these artists who have blazed a lot of trails on their behalf.'
'I wish we could do more for the trailblazers in our community because they had to deal with a lot more racism than we did,' Greyeyes continues. 'Their words were thought provoking and their music is still moving and we're all here today because of them.'
For many of us on this planet, the current state of perpetual emergency remains a relatively recent phenomenon. The pandemic looms large in our daily lives, while the climate crisis disrupts our seasons, collapses our ecosystems and destabilises our societies. These challenges have often begun to feel too overwhelming to ever surmount. But, as the online exhibition Shimmering Horizons sought to remind us, not all history is experienced the same way, and the future remains very much undecided. The catalyst shall be our creative will to re-imagine what this future may look like.
'The apocalypse has already happened in some ways,' says Laurie White, the curator of Shimmering Horizons. 'For Indigenous people, that reality has already taken place, rather than [it being] a fear that is in the future.'
But White was keen to not exclusively showcase Indigenous artists in Shimmering Horizons – not only because ecological disaster will have a profound impact on us all, if not equally – but also to challenge prevailing assumptions that Indigenous art and settler art operate as siloed categories. Of the five artists whose works are featured in Shimmering Horizons – Asinnajaq, Musseau, Marina Roy, Tania Willard and Elizabeth Zvonar – Roy and Zvonar are of settler background. 'These artists are living people having conversations [with each other], and we share similar goals, even though we're coming from very different places,' she says.