Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art

"POP + NOISE" by Sasha Amaya, photos by Pablo Riquelme

On Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. aceartinc., a contemporary art-focused, artist-run centre, will host a vernissage for emerging artists. This group participated in what hannah_g, co-director of the gallery, describes as Winnipeg’s premiere arts mentorship opportunity: MAWA’s Foundation Mentorship Program (FMP).

A quarter-century ago, MAWA (Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art) was established to address the underrepresentation of female artists in society. Lisa Wood, program and administrative coordinator for the organization, explains that advocacy is still needed. People assume underrepresentation is not an issue because work has been done to amend this lack, but it is a reality for artists from certain communities.

The recent centennial celebration exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, 100 Masters, included only six female artists. The show was a collection of works from the traditionally accepted list of great artists, a list which enforces the idea that mastery is male.

MAWA supports other communities who receive less attention, including the craft community, Aboriginal artists, and artists with disabilities. Each year the FMP involves artists from an additional community not receiving sufficient attention.

MAWA’s core activity is the FMP: established women artists mentoring emerging female artists. MAWA is an accessible space and all programming except the FMP is open to all genders.

“I think it’s a common misconception that MAWA is a female-identified-only space, but it’s simply not true,” says Elise Dawson, chair of the board of directors for MAWA and a 2012-13 participant of FMP.

Sasha Amaya and Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk, two artists from the same program, emphasize MAWA’s openness as well as their own, listing male and female artists who inspire them.

Mentees are selected by mentors who believe in their protegé’s potential. Amaya and Hodges-Kolisnyk explain that discussing their work with mentors who personally chose them was invaluable, and meeting together inspired them to work diligently. Hodges-Kolisnyk laments that after school constructive feedback is rarely available, and Amaya says mentors push the artists to improve and prevent lasting discouragement. When asked what she would tell young female artists if she were to mentor them, Amaya listed the following:

1. Ask people if they want to work with you; some will say no, others will say yes.

2. Constantly work on things, even if you are only practicing.

3. Winnipeg is a super great place, but it is also small. If you don’t see what you want here, look for it somewhere else. You don’t need to be confined to this city.

4. Once you have made a few works, people will want you to continue doing the same thing. Don’t be afraid of exploring other ways of working.

5. Study another discipline in addition to art. It will make you more confident and give your work deeper meaning.

Come see what happens when fantastic artists are brought together to learn. There will be works by Sasha Amaya, Janessa Brunet, Amanda Damsma, Elise Dawson, Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk, Megan Kraus, Gerry Oliver, and Natasha Peterson, who were mentored by Aganetha Dyck, Val Klassen, Suzie Smith, and Lisa Stinner-Kun, assisted by Danishka Esterhazy. They represent the current base of fantastic talent and the future of art in this city and abroad.

The year-end FMP showcase will be on display at aceartinc., 290 McDermot Avenue, until Saturday, Nov. 9. Visit www.aceart.org for more details.