LivingArts: Growing Community: How Can the Death of One Collective Feed a Vibrant Ecology?

We continue our series of LivingArts Hamilton blogs featuring guest writers from a variety of arts disciplines across the community. This week, we're pleased to welcome Jessica Lea Fleming, an award winning filmmaker, published poet, producer and programmer based in Hamilton of Métis and Scottish descent.

The end of each harvest starts a new season. Recently, myself and Jasmin Glaw, co-founders of The Sweetgrass Sisters Collective, came to the difficult decision to dissolve our collective. After much conversation and many “what ifs” we had to face the facts that we simply no longer have the capacity to do our work in a responsible, thoughtful and sustainable way.

This decision was especially hard because of the tremendous support the collective received so early on. In fact, in our year of operating, we managed to cement strong partnerships with the city of Hamilton’s major institutions and received ongoing engagement and feedback from the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. The real challenge came down to capacity – actual hours available to do the work we envisioned for the Sweetgrass Sisters. In particular, as our initiatives centered on community building and Indigenous arts, it was always of utmost importance that our programming and activities be done responsibly. Too often Indigenous artists and curators are rushed to “throw something Native together” which is not only in direct opposition of genuine reconciliation, but can also be downright detrimental to the integrity of our voices and experiences. It was the volume but also the required consideration that led us to burn out. 

      

There is a very real gap in local Indigenous programming as evidenced by the onslaught of requests we received. There is also a strong desire for continued reconciliation and relationship building among our diverse citizens and the original caretakers of the Haudenosaunee and Mississauga territory now referred to as Hamilton. I know I am not alone when I say this city wants and needs a dedicated Indigenous arts presence. If passion were enough we’d still be at it, but the reality is we’re the rule not the exception when it comes to grassroots teams.

As a medicine, sweetgrass helps to keep our hearts, minds and spirits in balance. It is challenging to let go of something we both truly value and had an absolute blast building. Personally, I see our ending as a great opportunity. It is my sincere hope that some firecracker next-gen Nish sees or hears of the Sweetgrass Sisters, and finds inspiration in our short stint to pick up where we left off. With that said, how can we as a city support the needs of small arts teams working to diversify our local landscape? Here is where the most important seeds for change are planted. So, Hamilton, let’s work together, dig deep and enrich the soil of our growing community.