Many First Nations visual artists from B.C. and Yukon have benefitted from the work of the YVR Art Foundation since its inception more than three decades ago. But the not-for-profit independent organization’s inspiring programs have been bolstered in recent years by additional support from Tourism Richmond. And that means even more B.C. and Yukon First Nations creatives are being empowered to produce exceptional work––with much of it on show at Richmond’s Vancouver International Airport.

“Steam-Bent Hinkeets Masks” by Tlehpik Hjalmer Wenstob, 2022 Emerging Artist Scholarship Award recipient. Photo Credit: Kim Bellevance.

“The Foundation started as a way to build the First Nations art collection that was being displayed at the airport,” says its executive director Elisabeth Kyle. “But since 2005, our work has been all about supporting B.C. and Yukon First Nations visual artists to create, develop and advance their work. Being a professional artist has always been a huge commitment and our programs actively help artists to thrive and continue growing their practice and careers.”

Vancouver International Airport, adds Kyle, remains the charitable Foundation’s strongest supporter and its biggest financial partner. But there’s also an art-loving array of additional committed sponsors––including Tourism Richmond––that supports its initiatives. And those initiatives have so far benefitted more than 200 artists that represent at least 50 of the region’s unique Indigenous communities.

Tourism Richmond––which has promoted the city to locals and visitors for more than 25 years––started actively supporting the Foundation’s work in 2023 as part of its drive to spread and deepen the benefits of the visitor economy throughout the region. Recently, the tourism organization extended and expanded its Foundation support and is now helping to fund two of its invaluable programs.

Inspiring Travel

The first of these is the Bill McLennan Masterpiece Study Travel Grants, which enable B.C. or Yukon First Nations artists to visit partner museums and encounter their Pacific Northwest collections up close. Named after a distinguished curator from Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology, the grants cover travel, accommodation and more. The program’s growing roster of top-level partner institutions includes the Field Museum in Chicago, Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, McCord Museum in Montreal and others.

2018 Masterpiece recipient Christian White pictured at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. Photo Credit: Christian White.

“As far as we are aware, this program is unique––no one else around the world is doing anything like this,” says Kyle. “The chance to experience these works face-to-face can be inspiring, spiritual and life-changing for our participating artists. And it can also be very emotional, so we make sure we are highly supportive of them throughout the entire process.”

Over the years, dozens of B.C. and Yukon First Nations artists from many regional communities have received funding via the program for inspiring trips to major Canadian, US and overseas institutions. In 2023, this included artist Kimberly Ronning (Shuswap Nation) who visited the Burke Museum in Seattle; Agnes Seaweed Wisden (‘Na̱mg̱is First Nation) who travelled to the American Museum of Natural History in New York; and Kwiis Hamilton (Hupač̓asatḥ First Nation and Stó꞉lō Nation) who went to the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau.

Supporting Careers

Compassionate mentorship, adds Kyle, has long been an important feature of the Foundation’s programs. But while mentors sometimes travel with the award-winning artists under the Travel Grants initiative, they are often an even bigger component of the second program that Tourism Richmond recently started supporting. And this program, says Kyle, is one that bolsters artists in a crucial but not always understood phase of their creative journey.

“I’ve been working in the arts for a long time and I know just how hard it is to maintain a creative career over many years­­––the cost of tools, materials and studio space alone can all be very high, for example.” That’s why the Foundation created its Mid-Career Artist Scholarships, providing up to three awards every year to First Nations artists over the age of 30 who are working on a special project or taking their career in a fresh creative direction. Recent award winners have included Andrew Williams (Haida Nation) and Levi Nelson of (Lil’wat Nation).

Musqueam artist Delphine Campbell pictured at the YVR Art Foundation Scholarship Event. Photo Credit: Kim Bellavance.

Joining the program as a new sponsor this year, Tourism Richmond will support a specific local artist who is engaged on an exciting project. For 2024, the accolade has been awarded to Musqueam artist Delphine Campbell who is creating a traditional ceremonial blanket. During the one-year project, she will be mentored by legendary Musqueam weaver and designer Debra Sparrow. Once completed, this one-of-a-kind work will be displayed at Vancouver International Airport.

Airport Viewing

This display element is a major celebratory feature of the Foundation’s work, notes Kyle, enabling locals and travellers at the airport to personally view many of the works resulting from its programs. “Most of the works created under our programs will be displayed at the airport. There are currently around 10 or so artworks that can currently be viewed post-security,” she says, adding that the airport is also home to a famously wide array of highly engaging art that visitors routinely delight in discovering.

2018 YVRAF scholarship recipients touring the YVR Art Collection and featuring the artwork “Hetux” in the Pacific Passage by artist Connie Watts. Photo Credit: YVR Art Foundation.

That delight will only increase in coming years as passengers find new works added to the airport by the Foundation and supported by Tourism Richmond and its sponsorship partners. “The Foundation is a small team but I like to think we do mighty work,” says Kyle. “I feel tremendously honoured and humbled to be engaging with these talented artists as they learn about and advance their material cultures and help their communities to thrive. Art is a place where we can all come together and learn––and that makes this work very important.”

Last Updated on July 8, 2024 by Tourism Richmond