Neechee Studio: A fresh new program for Aboriginal youth

Neechee Studio offers workshops and opportunities for youth
Neechee Studio offers workshops and opportunities for youth
Neechee Studio offers workshops and opportunities for youth
Neechee Studio offers workshops and opportunities for youth

THUNDER BAY – ARTS – “Creating art was all I ever wanted to do,” Lucille Atlookan of Eabametoong First Nation said.

Atlookan is one of two faces of Neechee Studio, the other being Matilda Suganaqueb of Webequie First Nation. Both youth are the liaison and outreach coordinators for the program, and are pursuing post-secondary education in Thunder Bay.

Neechee Studio is a new program that involves free art workshops that aim to empower the health and well being of Aboriginal youth ages 14-30 through artistic expression. The workshops are a presentation of Definitely Superior Art Gallery’s Die Active collective. Support for the program is also garnered from the Regional Multicultural Youth Council (RMYC), Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School (DFC), and Matawa First Nations and Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN).

Learning an appreciation for art and culture, and themselves too.
Learning an appreciation for art and culture, and themselves too.

“Neechee Studio workshops are organized by a small dedicated committee of six people,” Atlookan said. “Lora Northway, Definitely Superior Art Gallery’s Youth Outreach Coordinator, is a Neechee Studio coordinator, along with Marc Bohemier from the Thunder Bay RCMP and Cree Stevens.”

Stevens is a local artist and is new to the committee this year, Atlookan explained.

Atlookan said that since the programs inception in 2013, Neechee Studio has run nine workshops between November and March. The workshops included both traditional and contemporary art techniques such as beading, porcupine quilling, painting, sculpture, casting, silk screening, hip hop song writing, street art, and wheat pasting.

“We expanded this past summer to include a two-day mural painting workshop in Mishkeegomang First Nation, as well as a two-day ‘train the trainer’ workshop called Neechee in a Box,” Atlookan explained. “We want to make Neechee Studio mobile so that the outlying communities can experience the program as well. I would like to bring Neechee Studio to my home community.”

Working together at Neechee Studio
Working together at Neechee Studio

Atlookan said that she has always liked art since she was young.

“Creating art was all I ever wanted to do. In my early teens, I fell into a depression. We lost a lot of people over the years and locking myself in my bedroom with my art supplies was the only way I could release those strong emotions,” Atlookan said. “I didn’t know how else to cope with grieving. We do things that can help us in positive ways and art was one of them for me.”

Atlookan said that she was using art as a healing tool but did not realize it at the time. She explained that she was really good at art, and it made her proud to have created good artwork that represented how she felt.

“I come from an artistic family, I knew it was going to be a big part of my life. I have always wanted to pursue a career in art, and Neechee Studio has been guiding me toward that path,” she said.

Neechee Studio meets once a month on a Thursday for workshops at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery, and will continue to do so until March 2015. Atlookan explained that each workshop is developed and shared by local artists.

“All of our artists are emerging and Aboriginal artists with a talent for working and connecting with young Aboriginal participants,” Atlookan said. “There are often two artists who help lead a workshop, with other artists who assist.”

Atlookan said that there are youth who regularly attend the workshops, and help put the word out for newcomers to the program to attend as well. She estimates there are over 30 youth who attend each workshop, with some events being so popular that over 60 people have attended.

“Members say that the workshops are fun, and they get to meet new people and there’s always good food,” Atlookan explained.

Atlookan feels it is important to encourage art in youth as a form of expression because there are many different ways of communicating, and art is one way for youth find and use their voice in a creative way.

“Neechee Studio provides a safe space for members to express themselves without any judgment,” Atlookan said “Art allows people to communicate in a visual or abstract way, which appeals to many youth.”

Atlookan said that her time as a member of Neechee Studio has taught her how to run a workshop and speak confidently to participants, how to work as a team, and helped her become an active member of the art community.

“I’ve been trying out different art forms, which I enjoyed learning about,” Atlookan said of her time as a part of Neechee Studio so far. “And it’s important to be a part of something like it because it provides free art workshops for the youth.”

The group will be taking part in Definitely Superior Art Gallery’s annual Urban Infill Art Exhibition in March, and is also working on an “art zine” that will include artwork created by members as well as information about the artists.

Stephanie Wesley

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