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Feds urged to crack down on fake Indigenous art, copyright breaches – Terrace Standard – Terrace Standard



First Nations art, from hand-carved masks to totem poles, draws on generations of tradition and skill and can take months to craft.

But a flood of fakes and commercial knock-offs produced in Asia and eastern Europe are exploiting Indigenous culture, the artists say, and robbing them of revenue.

One of the well-known Indigenous artists to have images of their work reproduced without permission is British Columbia carver Richard Hunt.

“I’ve stopped people making postcards of my work I’ve found out about. In Bali, Indonesia, they are making northwest coast masks. They are selling them as Indigenous,” he said.

“These things have got to be stopped. We need the government’s help. It’s like the dreamcatcher coming from Taiwan or China. Buyer beware.”

The federal government is facing calls to take action, including from a senator who wants a reform to copyright law, a unit to help Indigenous artists track down fakes and stronger border checks for art in Indigenous styles.

Hunt said raising tariffs on imports of copies could slow them down but he said the fakes were being mass produced, undercutting genuine Indigenous artists and making it harder for young First Nations carvers to make a living in what he said is a $1-billion industry.

Sen. Patricia Bovey, the first art historian to sit in the Senate, said the industry of fake Indigenous art may be worth millions of dollars and breaches artists’ intellectual property rights.

She is lobbying the government to reform copyright law to give more protection to Indigenous artists against unscrupulous businesses reproducing their images without their knowledge.

The unauthorized and fake Indigenous works range from reproductions of First Nations art on T-shirts, bedspreads, plastic bowls and bags, to carved masks and totem poles made from wood grown in Southeast Asia.

Many of these are near-exact copies of original works in galleries in Canada and the problem is acute with West Coast art.

Bovey wants ministers to set up a unit to help Indigenous artists whose work is being reproduced without their knowledge track down and chase those who infringed their copyright, at least so they get paid.

Not only are Indigenous artists having their creations purloined, she says, but people buying Indigenous work in Canada and abroad may have little idea it may be fake or has been produced without the artist’s permission.

Bovey was shocked to find that some images on orange T-shirts made following the discovery of unmarked graves last year were reproduced without the artists’ knowledge by companies making a profit, not raising funds for Indigenous causes.

She warns buyers of Indigenous work to ask before they purchase where the work came from, whether it was made with the permission of the artist and whether the artist is being paid.

“This is a really serious issue,” she said. “It’s plagiarizing the work, it’s appropriating the work and both are wrong and the artists don’t have the resources to fight all this in the court.”

Helping Indigenous artists reclaim their copyright would be an example of “reconcili-action,” the senator added.

She wants an upcoming review of the Copyright Act by Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez and Minister of Innovation and Science Francois-Phillippe Champagne to include protections for Indigenous works, which she says are integral to Canada’s culture and history.

Not only should there be specific safeguards for artists but a mechanism to track down companies fabricating Indigenous works, or failing to pay artists’ royalties, including in China and eastern Europe, she said.

“We all have a responsibility for this. We need to find ways to support artists who are maligned that way to have legal funds,” she said.

Alex Wellstead, spokesman for Champagne, said the review of the Copyright Act would “further protect artists and creators and copyright holders.”

He said “Indigenous Peoples and artists will be consulted in the process.”

Current copyright law offers protection for Indigenous craftsmen and women, including Inuit sculptors and jewellers, but Bovey said the process is so complex and time-consuming to chase, few artists have the time to pursue it.

She also wants closer checks at borders and investigations of the provenance and destination of art in Canadian Indigenous styles, particularly made from wood that is not native to Canada.

Fake masks and Indigenous carvings have been openly sold to tourists in Vancouver as genuine, according to Lucinda Turner, an apprentice to Nisg’aa sculptor and totem pole carver Norman Tait.

Turner, who died this week, spent years listing, tracking and challenging fraudulent Indigenous works claiming to be authentic, and lectured on the subject.

Hunt said she had done much to draw attention to the illicit trade, and had helped many Indigenous artists claim their copyright.

In an open letter to the government last November Turner said over 1,000 appropriated images were removed after she and others wrote takedown letters supporting artists whose copyright had been breached.

In a lecture to the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, she said a few copied carvings in mahogany were so authentic-looking that they have been hung in Canadian galleries.

Among the fakes she identified are reproductions of 19th-century carvings in major museums, such as a beaver rattle from the British Museum, and copies of works by contemporary northwest coast artists including acclaimed carver Bill Reid.

She lobbied the federal government for greater protection for Indigenous artists, calling for a law, as in the United States, with huge fines for selling Indigenous work that is not genuine.

The U.S. Indian Arts and Crafts Act criminalizes misrepresentation and copying of Indigenous art. There is also a fake art hotline south of the border to make reporting of unauthorized copies easy.

In the open letter to the federal government, she called for action to tackle misrepresentations on the online market.

Well-intentioned buyers trying to support the Orange Shirt movement had been duped into buying clothing that Indigenous people would gain nothing from — including the artists whose images had been used, she said.

The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls movement was also exploited by money-making businesses making handbags, T-shirts with Indigenous images without the artists’ permission, she warned.

The internet has led to mass marketing of fraudulent, copied or stolen images of art and ceremonial artifacts by companies with no links to the Indigenous artists, she said.

Bovey, who says she plans to raise the issue again with ministers when the Senate returns from its summer break, said few people realize that Indigenous art on sale in Canadian stores could be made in China, eastern Europe and Taiwan.

“The buyers don’t know, the artists don’t have the means to monitor it and the predators are having a great time,” she said. “It’s theft of their iconography. It’s stealing people’s cultural heritage and it is both morally and legally wrong.”

The Canada Border Services Agency said there were currently “no import restrictions related to items that imitate Indigenous art.”

—Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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The chaotic joy of Art Fight – The Verge



In the summer of 2017, I was stuck between high school and college and stuck between two versions of myself. There was the high school version of me, someone with a laser focus on traditional academic success, and the college version of myself, a mystery that burst with the potential to do and create outside of the box that I had formed around myself.

It started with a simple DM — something along the lines of “this seems fun; you should join it also!” When I clicked the link, I saw a dizzying array of character designs laid out in tidy rows, filling the homepage of the site. It was overwhelming, not just because so many people had joined this site but also because they had shared so many stories and characters. The characters were technicolor and sparkling, with lengthy backstories included with their pictures. There was so much passion, and I was being invited to join them.

Art Fight is a fairly simple concept. For the month of July, artists register on the site and are divided into teams. Once registered and sorted, they upload examples of their art along with personal characters and stories of their own that they would be interested in other people drawing. Then, the games begin.

You score points in Art Fight by drawing another team’s requests, called an “attack” in the lingo of the game. The more complex the request, the higher the score, and at the end of the month, the team with the most points gets a special badge on the site showing they’ve won. There’s no reward beyond the badge, and nobody is too strict about the teams. Individuals can change teams multiple times over the course of the month. The real incentive isn’t winning but, rather, drawing for others and being drawn in turn.

I was an amateur artist at the time and had spent very little time creating a social media profile and promoting my art. But even then, it was exciting to know I could draw for others and know they would be excited to draw back. Something about this space was welcoming to people of all skill levels and meant that I wasn’t lost in the digital noise.

In the following years, the time that I spent on Art Fight waxed and waned based on the business of my own summers. But each year, I made sure to draw at least one piece for it, taking the lovingly rendered illustration that another artist had made of their character and granting it life in my own art style. It remained a constant, this act of creating for someone else that I likely did not know.

The other constant was the range of other artists that used the platform. Some were students or hobby artists, drawing in the free time that they had on weekends or after work. Others were professional artists, pulling together attacks as breaks from their own work. What remained true was the range of people that Art Fight encompassed, with individuals from almost any walk of life with an interest in character design and storytelling coming together to share their creations.

Back in the summer of 2017, I hadn’t realized quite how special that was. Wedged in among my career aspirations and life goals, my art often feels pushed to the background, something that can’t be properly pursued unless it has a “purpose” (usually involving money). Having a space where that creation is encouraged and given a community, for any skill level and with few caveats, still feels exhilarating.

For the artists I know, sharing online can be a mixed blessing. Platforms offer reach but they can feel actively hostile, putting artists at the whims of algorithms and mainstream attention. There are few platforms actively devoted to art and even fewer constructed to make artists feel more comfortable. The result can feel alienating, forcing creators to post constantly to stay relevant rather than follow their own inspiration.

Art Fight, for me, is a balm to that. Even for a hobbyist artist like me, there is something exciting about individuals making art for each other without the caveats of platforms or the frantic scramble to be seen. It is a challenge that asks only for what you want to give to it rather than what the platform wants. For that reason, the month of July is a sanctuary — a place to create on my terms with the knowledge that it will still be seen by others and maybe be special to some of them.

Camille Butera is a Master of Science student at Oxford University and a recent graduate of Smith College. Outside of that, you can find her drawing and catching up on TV shows about five years after everyone else.

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Downtown gateway art project gets initial green light –



Council has given initial approval for the Collingwood Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) to proceed in a public art process for a gateway feature for the downtown.

During Monday’s strategic initiatives standing committee meeting, council voted in favour of proceeding with a gateway feature, with a focus on the feature being an integrated public art installation anchoring the downtown core.

“Art is in the beholder. We follow a process. Some may disagree with the process. We’re voting on a process today, not a piece of art,” said Hull. “When it’s installed, and people don’t like it – you voted for the process.”

Based on a plan proposed and approved by the BIA board, the process for the public art gateway feature would follow the town’s public art policy, and would begin with planning by an ad-hoc committee to come up with a budget and theme with an invitation to the community to participate on the committee.

During Monday’s meeting, BIA general manager Sue Nicholson noted that the theme is currently under discussion.

“Working through the public process, I think the theme is ‘What has built this downtown,’” said Nicholson. “The shipbuilding, the rail that basically created this community. These themes will help shape what this piece of art looks like.”

Later, there would be a call to artists, a selection process with interviews, and, ultimately, the installation of the piece. A public art working group selected for the project would include town staff, BIA, community members, and representatives from the Collingwood Museum, the historical society, and the Blue Mountain Foundation for the Arts.

The BIA’s goal is to move quickly through the process to have a final design and artist contracted by the end of January 2023.

The project would be funded by a $215,000 federal grant which must be used for beautification of the downtown before March 31, 2023. If not used by that date, the BIA would lose the federal funding.

Coun. Deb Doherty said she was in support of the recommendation.

“I applaud the BIA board for having taken a very negative assessment of their original proposal and gone back to the drawing board and come back with a very creative approach that I hope will be a win-win for the town, residents and the BIA,” said Doherty.

The original proposed archway project was presented to council in early March 2022. The design showed two tall poles with a black metal archway spanning Hurontario Street at the intersection with First Street/Huron Street. On the arch were white letters reading “Historic Downtown Collingwood” on one side and “Historic Harbourfront Collingwood,” on the other. The idea, according to the BIA, was to help people find the downtown and encourage them to turn onto Hurontario Street.

The proposal was immediately and vehemently rejected by public opinion. Letters to decried it as an eyesore and the BIA received dozens of emails and submissions opposing the design and concept of an archway in the downtown.

A public survey put out by the town in April received nearly twice as many responses as the 2022 town budget survey with 727 responses to the archway survey and 529 of them (72.8 per cent) against an archway altogether.

Town council was also bombarded with opposition from residents culminating to a meeting on May 30 when Mayor Keith Hull (then acting mayor) said he was surprised by the ferocity of the response to the archway.

At the May 30 meeting, council told the BIA and town staff to go back to the drawing board to find a different way to spend the $215,000 federal grant.

Nicholson’s proposal to use the town’s Public Art Policy to commission a gateway feature that is not an arch is in response to council’s May order.

On Monday, not all councillors were in favour of the proposal.

“I feel this is contrary to our sign bylaw. I feel it is contrary to our heritage conservation district. It’s almost as if this is a sign project in the guise of art,” said Coun. Chris Carrier. “I think art is art – let art be the anchor as opposed to wrapping it in the envelope of signage.”

“This is almost like another kick at the can we had before,” he added. “I think the public rejected it not because they were misunderstanding the finances, but because they didn’t want an arch.”

The committee voted 6-1 in favour of proceeding with the public art process, with Carrier opposed. Coun. Bob Madigan declared a conflict on the matter and didn’t participate in discussions as he is a BIA member.

The decision will need to be ratified at the next meeting of council before going into effect.

With files from Erika Engel.

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How this local arts group is making art accessible in Calgary –



In a pursuit to build a recreational facility for the arts, The Alcove has been encouraging the community to pitch in through a series of summer workshops and pop-ups. (Shay Blenkin/Fern and Pine Studios)

The corner of 8th ave and 1st street bustled with colour, music and dancing last week at The Alcove’s Hip-Hop Showcase, one of their several pop-up events this summer. 

“Hip-hop really brings people from different ethnicities, different races together, in ways that other spaces don’t,” said MC GoodMedicine who feels these spaces allow people to be authentic and tell their story.

These pop-ups by The Alcove Centre for Arts are an attempt to showcase how a physical recreational facility for the arts could benefit the community in many ways. This non-profit group is dedicated to making art more accessible by providing workshops and platforms to support local artists. 

“We have so many hidden gems here, and these workshops are helping pass down the knowledge to the youth,” said Ryan De Guzman a.k.a Rubix, a local rapper. 

“I believe Calgary’s still young, kind of like in its pre-teens…but we are growing and have the potential to be like Montreal,” Guzman said as he reflected on the arts scene and its future in the city.

The Alcove workshop attendees visited the CBC booth to create some acrylic art with CBC stencils. (Ishita Singla/CBC)

The first half of the showcase was a spray paint and street art workshop led by Anthony Russell who provided guidance on colour theory, spray can control, letter structure and style. After the formal instruction, the space welcomed a collaborative community mural, facilitated by a graffiti trio, Spreason. Attendees and community members had the opportunity to spray paint their own name tags to this four by eight foot mural. 

CBC Calgary was on location with canvases, custom CBC stencils and paint supplies, for aspiring and professional artists to express themselves. While some captured yellow and orange gradients of a sunrise, others were inspired by bright patterns, and even monochrome palettes. 

In collaboration with ANTYX and TRIBE Artist Society, The Alcove opened up the floor to an open jam, or a “cypher.” DJ Playtime spun some tunes for rappers and dancers to come and vibe together.

“Cyphers welcome hip-hop artists to come together, practice and perform. This is an opportunity for strangers to mingle and develop friendships through arts and music,” as The Alcove explained. (Shay Blenkin/ Fern and Pine Studios)

The showcase was aimed to be “for the community, from the community and by the community.” The workshops were made possible in partnership with the Calgary Downtown Association and the venue was a collaborative effort by University of Calgary’s faculties of Social Work and School of Creative and Performing Arts

The Alcove is hosting a multicultural themed arts showcase on August 27 and once again, CBC Calgary will be on-site to creatively stimulate conversations about art, community and more.

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