The Centre d’art daphne, scheduled to open in the autumn of 2020, is the first Indigenous artist-run centre in Tiohtià:ke/Mooniyang, also known as Montreal. I had an opportunity to talk to the centre’s newly hired director, Lori Beavis, about her aspirations regarding promoting Quebec Indigenous artists and fostering exchanges with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences.

Julie Graff – What can you tell me about the Centre d’art daphne and its mission?

Lori Beavis – daphne was started by four co-founders, Hannah Claus, Caroline Monnet, Nadia Myre, and Skawennati. They recognized the need for an Indigenous artist-run centre in Montreal, as so often Indigenous artists in Quebec are left out of the conversation. They first came together in 2018. The centre is named daphne after Daphne Odjig (1919–2016), an Anishinaabe (Odawa-Potawatomi) artist. She had a craft and art space in Winnipeg, the New Warehouse Gallery, where she brought artists together. She worked hard to gain recognition for Indigenous art as fine art. Our intention at daphne is to be a place of gathering. We want to build relationships. We’re hoping to organize beading circles, art talks, film screenings, and opportunities for people to talk together. A lot of what we plan is around the idea of feasts—for people to come, talk, and share food. An important component in the formation of daphne is to exhibit the work of both francophone and anglophone Indigenous artists. Because of the French/English language issue, francophone and anglophone Indigenous people in Quebec don’t have a chance to talk with each other, so we are trying to bring them together at daphne. We have the first four exhibitions planned for the first year of programming, all with artists who reside in communities outside of Montreal. The exhibitions grew out of the Tiohtià:ke Project, organized by the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective.

In 2018, curators from across the country were invited to come to Quebec to meet and visit with artists in their communities, with the objective of bridging the colonial linguistic and knowledge gaps between Quebec-based Indigenous artists and these curators. The choice of which artist to work with was then made on a personal level, sometimes depending on practice, media, or resonance with a community.

Our intention at daphne is to be a place of gathering. We want to build relationships.

As director, which part of the work are you more excited about? What are your own curatorial interests? 

My background is in art history and art education. I’ve been organizing exhibitions for six years, mostly as an independent curator. I’m very interested in the connection between life experience and art experience, in narratives about family and Indigenous culture: how we come to know who we are and how we express that. I’m very interested in the work of art but also in the infrastructure around the art exhibition. I love well-programmed exhibitions in which people meet artists and hear their stories, and also interact with one another through their own art making, exploring new materials or media, based on what they are seeing in the gallery or on the themes raised by the work in the exhibition.

People come to culture in different ways, and there are so many people who really want to know more about Indigenous art, whether they are Indigenous or not. I think that daphne will be an interesting place for people to visit, as they will be able to create, to see works of art, to expand their horizons, and to learn about other ways of seeing the world. Importantly, visitors to daphne will gain knowledge of contemporary Indigenous artists and their practices.

So, daphne would focus on cultural differences among First Nations that are sometimes missed in other cultural institutions?

The co-founders of daphne conceived this project to provide a contemporary exhibition space that is strengthened by an Indigenous context to reflect our specific cultural knowledges. As I mentioned, inspiration for this artist-run centre came from Anishinaabe artist-grandmother, Daphne Odjig, the first contemporary Indigenous artist to create a space for her peers and community. Like Odjig, we intend for Centre d’art daphne to be a space for artists to find strength in community, generated through relationships with curators and audiences, and, equally significant, to participate in the art conversations that are taking place in and across borders. daphne will thrive with fresh perspectives and shared knowledges as artists, curators, and audiences come together in Tiohtià:ke/Mooniyang/Montreal. 

Skawennati, Family in the Sky (2017)
Machinimagraph from The Peacemaker Returns
Inkjet print, 86 cm x 152 cm
© Skawennati & ELLEPHANT

Do you also have some specific plans for the growing Indigenous urban community in Montreal?

I really want daphne to bring a lot of different people and groups together. I will use our contacts with different organizations in Montreal where Indigenous people gather. I’m thinking, for instance, about languages programs; for example, Native Montreal has a language revitalization program, and I would be thrilled to get involved with people engaged in that program, to bring students here, because hands-on experiences and handling materials enrich language learning—at least in my opinion. I would love to see adolescents, youth groups, and secondary-school classes come to daphne. This is such a great age group, as they are starting to figure out the world and finding their way. They are interested in learning more, and they are energetic. They are the next generation and they could come to daphne and get involved in many different ways. There will, for instance, be opportunities to become a member or to volunteer at daphne.

We will encourage artists to become a part of our community. We’re hoping in the future to be able to create a curatorial internship so that people can learn to propose, organize, and curate exhibitions. We will also facilitate workshops—we would like to have bi-weekly events—that will include beading circles, art talks, grant-writing workshops, performances, film screenings, and more.

We have great plans, we are very excited about getting into the space, and having people come see our gallery and visit with us—whether or not we must wear a mask!