FUTURES/forward Mentorships: Featuring Stella Lipscomb
FUTURES/forward Mentee, Stella Lipscomb — cohort #3 duo, October 2020 to March 2021 — mentored by Inuksuk Mackay
STELLA LIPSCOMB is an Inuvialuit visual artist and musician from Inuvik, Northwest Territories and is currently based out of Southern Manitoba. Between life drawings, portraits, photography, textile work and tattooing, she doesn’t hold back, fully immersing herself in every experience she can; diverse, adaptive, and always looking for room to grow. Stella’s acting experience includes featuring in a music video for the band “Old Cabin”. Her photography was recently presented at the Latitude 53 Gallery located in Edmonton, Alberta. As someone who is passionate about relationships, she hopes to immerse herself more fully into her communities in order to foster the kind of creativity and connection that contributes to inclusion and collective wellbeing.
What follows is a series of questions and answers provided by Stella and her mentor Inuksuk Mackay.
What changed for you as a mentee?
Stella: The communicative process from being the artist to helping my participants engage with the artistic process was quite difficult for me. Rearranging my words and being affirmative with others to help inspire them was an interesting process. Although it was super relatable for me to talk as an artist to artist, it was difficult to apply that in ways, but it was a hurdle that was quickly jumped.
What were the key accomplishments for you in this mentorship?
Stella: Gaining a sense of community was very important to me. The fact that we were all able to come together during this pandemic through social media and other online platforms was so innovative and revolutionary. My communication skills were also less admirable during the beginning of the project but, as time went by, I learned and adapted with Inuksuk to become a better leader.
What were the impacts, what changed, for participants in your project?
Stella: I found the thing that changed most for the participants in my group was letting down their walls to something new and finding the endurance to see the end game, although we all went in almost blind. At first it was quite hard to encourage others to see what was happening and what we needed to do for this project, but they were so determined in wanting to be a part of something that they were able to connect and endure through the entire process and had a lot of faith. It seemed in the beginning that they were very doubtful, but then they were so caring and loving that they saw that even though they didn’t fully understand what this process was at the beginning, they ended up pulling through.
What did you learn that was most valuable to you and your practice?
Inuksuk: This experience reinforced how important art is as a processing tool and a means of connection. In a time when we are feeling disconnected in our various levels of pandemic isolation, it hit home more than ever how much art brings us together.
Stella: What I learned was that although I am an artist it can be quite a challenge to separate myself from the art and know what is personal and what is professional.
Were there any challenges during your mentorship? If so, how did you overcome them? Please elaborate.
Stella: The biggest challenge for me during this mentorship was battling with my own mental health issues while trying to be as supportive and understanding with the participants and their mental health and their own struggles. Luckily, I have a very wonderful and supportive mentor who not only understands mental health, but has aided me in discovering what I truly needed to overcome and was tuned into a lot of my specific needs as someone who battles with depression etc. As an artist, as an Indigenous woman living in the northern parts of Canada, and someone who has accessibility issues due to financial instability, it can be very hard to resource as a singular human, but what Inuksuk was able to do for me was guide me and give me hope and understanding that if there is a struggle for something, there are ways to overcome and achieve what you need to in order to get by. Her deeply rooted understanding of these struggles that I (continue to) face each day has given me a feeling of determination and community and even in some ways family. Truly, I am so blessed to have Inuksuk as a mentor.
Inuksuk: Unfortunately, the pandemic has also amplified the precarity of the arts. Professional artists are struggling even more and recreational/community arts have also taken a big hit. So many are facing financial insecurity, housing insecurity and mental health challenges that make any activities outside of what is required to get by much more challenging.
After a couple of email exchanges, it became apparent that so much communication is lost when using just words alone. For this reason, we decided to rely more heavily on zoom calls and phone chats to connect with one another. These avenues still have their drawbacks but were a step-up from just emails alone where voice tone and body language cannot be properly read.
How effective was working together online? What were the positives and negatives?
Inuksuk: Working solely online was a challenge, but we pulled it off! Of course, we would have loved to be able to connect in person, but we did a wonderful job at staying in touch and collaborating over a distance.
What does this experience make you think about the future: as a community-engaged artist; of the community-engaged arts sector; post-pandemic innovations; anything else?
Inuksuk: I have an immense amount of hope staked in the future for community-engaged artists. If this experience has taught me anything, it’s that even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, people will come together to create and enjoy art. Stella faced many challenges throughout the duration of the project and navigated life challenges outside of the normal difficulties we all see day to day with grace and determination. I have nothing but respect and admiration for her tenacity to see the project through. As an emerging community-engaged artist she shows incredible promise and has grown so much during this process. I am proud to have had her as a mentee and will be watching her continue in her practice eagerly.
Stella: As community-engaged artists we need to continue to learn and adapt, and this whole project/mentorship truly pushed all of us, including my participants, to the edge and almost forced us to learn how to work online as a group and find ways of understanding each other that we never would have used initially if we were able to just be in a room together. Although it has proven to be difficult, we were all able to pull it off, and for this I’m so grateful!
The above photos are of some of the participants involved in my Culture & Heritage Zine Project: Xena Zi, Ayla Dunn, Alina Collins, and Tyler Pacholuk. At the beginning of this project, I had six participants. Those shown here were the ones who stuck it out. As I highlighted before, communication and accessibility were tough hills to climb to get to the top where we were all on the same page. Each of the participants were in different locations and I was not able to see any of them physically. This did create a barrier of sorts at the start of this project. Tyler being located in Manitoba with a three-hour difference from Xena created a mild difficulty, but really the accessibility was the main issue. The participants were all quite free spirited and like being able to move around a lot, so we had to work together to create a good line of communication, set proper boundaries, understand schedules, and recognize that not all of us were able to access the internet/zoom/phone calls at the same time. Although we had our struggles with communication and accessibility, we were able to pull through and work collaboratively to understand that there were many different views on how to approach an art piece such as this. Each one of my participants had never before participated in a collaborative, community-engaged artistic process, and none of them identify as professional artists or artists at all. Each one of them provided unique and important insights that were critical to the process of this zine project. We each truly learned valuable lessons from one another. It has been such a wonderful time to watch each of us grow into the project. By using art as a non-conventional mode of communication, we all learned to approach explaining and talking about heritage, culture, and emotions freely, without feeling pressed to communicate solely through verbal means. It was incredibly beautiful to watch each one of my participants blossom from “non-artist” to folx who connected intimately with the artistic process and now see themselves continuing to use art as a mode of communication in the future. I truly feel that as a community we have all learned from each other. Together we created an impactful experience to share how we approach mental illness and connect over how we approach communicating about heritage and culture in a safe and artistic way.
FUTURES/forward gratefully acknowledges that Stella’s mentorship thrived due in part to the generous support of Judith Marcuse Projects, the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund and Community Foundations of Canada.