Seeding innovation with Digital Greenhouse and the Canada Council for the Arts

Inclusion in Northern Research (INR) began with the creation of videos highlighting the varied journeys of a diverse group of researchers, youth, Elders and artists. In its first year, INR grew from a handful of supporters into an international online discussion that included over 1000 people in more than 40 countries, starting important conversations about inclusion in our research community in a safe and open space.

As the world begins to return to normal, and research season gets underway, several collaborators from both CINUK projects are gearing up to meet for the first time this June during the Auviqsaqtut 2022 Inuit Studies Conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The international conference, held every two years, is being hosted in partnership with Qaumajuq, the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the University of Winnipeg.

“Our program is new and we’re excited to be able to meet and learn with so many of the people and projects we’ve only been able to see through a screen these last two years,” said emerging Inuk artist and Inclusion in Northern Research team member Ethan Tassiuk from Arviat, Nunavut. “Self-determination in being able to design and lead our own, sustainable and community-led programs is even more important than ever before as we exit this pandemic.”

HANDS-ON: The Incubator team learns from in-person visits with entrepreneurs including Constance Menzies at Chocolatier Constance Popp in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Photo: Jamie Bell
Members of the Inclusion in Northern ResearchOur People Our Cilmate and the Winnipeg Incubator for Digital and Cultural Entrepreneurship discuss new collaborations during a workshop at Chocolatier Constance Popp in historic St. Boniface, Winnipeg this April. The workshop was one of the first held in almost two years and brought together artists, researchers and entrepreneurs from Winnipeg, Arviat, Northwestern Ontario and Minnesota.

“It’s through programs like this new Digital Greenhouse program from Canada Council for the Arts that we’re able to experiment with designing and piloting an urban and land-based arts and culture program, and to do it by experimenting with new technologies and in our own ways,” he said. 

Tassiuk said the digital and cultural entrepreneurship incubator program aims to contribute to and expand on existing work on entrepreneurship incubation, with an emphasis on the creation of digital products and services. “We’re still thinking a lot about how we can design new programs differently,” said Tassiuk. “We started with just ideas, and testing what we want to build on ourselves.”

Ethan Tassiuk receives decoration for Volunteerism from Governor General of Canada Mary Simon
Inclusion in Northern Research, Arviat Film Society founding member and emerging artist Ethan Tassiuk receives the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers from the Rt. Hon. Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada in April 2022. The 23-year-old Inuk artist is keen to resume his studies in Sports and Recreation Management at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario this fall.

The Digital Greenhouse is a new strategic digital innovation funding initiative for Canadian individuals, groups and organizations. The program supports addressing challenges and exploring digital solutions related to accessibility, equity, diversity, decolonization, social justice, and climate responsibility created by, or relevant to, the digital world, and to address challenges and exploring solutions related to the lack of access to digital infrastructure for remote regions and Northern and under-represented communities.

One of the projects the incubator team is working with is Our PeopleOur Climate. This innovative, international and community-driven project is both an artistic showcase and skills development program. Youth and young adult participants will learn the art of documentary storytelling using still photography, videography, drone aerial technology and interview techniques. People, Our Climate was exhibited at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, Scotland during COP-26 in November 2021.

Digital Greenhouse also supports the development of sector-wide and cross-sector collaborations, partnerships, and networks to support innovative strategies and sectoral approaches aimed at strategically increasing the digital/data literacy and ongoing digital transformation of the arts sector.

“I don’t think we realized at first just how different and exciting an adventure this new Digital Greenhouse program would turn out to be,” said cultural entrepreneurship incubator and Inclusion in Northern Research team member Jamie Bell. “We’re starting to see youth, emerging Indigenous artists and communities coming together, they’re starting to create artists’ profiles, bouncing new ideas off each other and most importantly, being able to meaningfully contribute to building new, collaborative relationship building and incubating ideas and opportunities for bringing the arts to life after two really difficult years.”

Recreating Environments of Inclusion with Marie-José Naud

The experimental incubator program follows examples set by Indigenous and People-of-Color-focused incubation programs such as Inclusion in Northern Research (Canada), Creative Startups (Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA), the Neighborhood Development Center (Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA), Indigenous Talent Portal (Canada), the Incubator for Digital Entrepreneurship in the Arctic (Alaska, USA).

“We’re learning a lot about digital standards,” said Bell. “And about how we can encourage innovative thinking and approaches to digital arts and arts-based research creation. We’re starting to see creative environments emerging where artists and the communities they work with are better able to utilize more agile, open and user-focused methods.”

Team members from projects planning to collaborate with the two CINUK-supported initiatives will gather this June for a special roundtable conversation on using the arts in support of participatory and inclusive learning environments during the Inuit Studies Conference.

This week-long series of conversations and workshops, hosted by Qaumajuq, the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the University of Winnipeg will bring together northern and southern youth, community builders, arts-based researchers, culture connectors, entrepreneurs and educators to share cultural and environmental observations, challenges and insights-based solutions for hands-on digital arts and technologies to tackle cultural and climate change through regenerative artistic creation, cultural entrepreneurship and participatory video training. 

It’s not just about creating or learning to create art, said Bell. “We’re also learning new techniques to ensure we can fully and better consider how to best leverage new approaches for digital delivery throughout all the projects we want to see developed. So much of this is about being able to learn, together, how to design new and innovative digital services to live, learn and create differently.

It’s a big goal, but what we all want to see happen is that everything we create will be open and freely shared for all Canadians to use, and to be able to it all from the palm of their hands in whatever community they live – whether urban, rural or northern and remote.”

By Jamie Bell

Jamie Bell is an interdisciplinary artist and community based researcher, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He enjoys working on collaborative projects that link communities, encourage cross-cultural connections and learning.

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