Made in Canada: Sustainable Fibre Arts NL Conference 2024

A look at sustainable fibre arts worldwide, and specifically in Canada, where the Sustainable Fibre Arts Conference “Made in Canada” will be held this year.

By Bruno Vinhas, Director of Events & Outreach at the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Introduction: Craft in Newfoundland and Labrador

Craft has long been a fundamental part of the formation and development of this province and, although there are many traditional aspects to it, it has constantly changed to fulfill the needs of time and place in which it was produced.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s craft has an extensive and dedicated trajectory when related to the mainland in Canada. Inspired by the diverse cultural influences that range from Latin and Anglo-Saxon cultures in the European countries to the unique Indigenous traditions the craft in this province has developed to fulfill the need of its people for functional objects.

Today the craftsmanship, the demand for quality and innovation, creativity and authenticity has promoted a boom in the craft industry and, far from just being functional, crafts have become a showcase of talent and contemporary art. Craft has also been a site of considerable adaptation and innovation – as diverse voices contribute to and expand upon its definitions.

The province is now a site of considerable experimentation led by a variety of perspectives including Indigenous, Queer-identified and feminist communities.

Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse - Gros Morne National Park. Made in Canada: Sustainable Fibre Arts NL Conference 2024
Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse – Gros Morne National Park
Photograph by Tom Cochrane. Courtesy of Go Western Newfoundland

The Influence of Sustainability

Sustainability has been a central conversation in the arts and cultural community in the past decade, to say the least, and as such a diversity of makers and craft artists are turning their attention to sustainable practices at a local, national and international level.

Focusing on sustainability and respect for the land, water and air, the Made In Canada: Sustainable Fibre Arts Newfoundland and Labrador 2024 will bring together artists from other Canadian Provinces and Territories of diverse cultural backgrounds and present a series of workshops, round tables, exhibitions and the sustainable foraging of fibres on the West Coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

There is no better way to celebrate a Year of the Arts than bringing an art conference to the province.

A Brief History of Textile and Fibre

After agriculture, the textile and fibre sector is the oldest “industry” and dates back several centuries ago.

In terms of trade, gross domestic product, and the ISED Canada data for 2021, the textile and fibre industry has 671 establishments in operation and generates an average of $569.7 thousand a year per establishment with an estimated value of 3.8 billion for the industry itself. According to the UN Environment Programme (2021) “The textile industry is one of global importance, providing economic growth (profits), high levels of employment, foreign exchange revenue and products essential to human welfare.

However, addressing the circularity and sustainability of the sector is crucial: the world is producing and consuming more textiles than ever before, and the current very low reuse and recycling rates mean that more textiles are also being thrown away than ever before.

This requires ever more land, water and fossil fuels, and leads to increasing pollution of the air, water and soil – not only damaging the environment but also harming the health of textile workers and communities.”

A Deeper Interpretation of Sustainability

Sustainability is far from a new concept. The term has been known worldwide since 1962 after a publication by Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Mariner Books Classics; 40th Anniversary ed. edition (Feb. 1 2022). Indigenous peoples, however, have practiced elements of sustainable living since times immemorial by respecting and understanding the natural environment and its limits, cycles, and changes.

This understanding is usually referred to as traditional ecological knowledge, or the deep knowledge and beliefs about relationships between people and nature.

Sustainable Textiles in the Arts

Sustainable textile practices are evolving and being adopted by hundred of artists in Canada and across the Globe.

These artists create fibre and textile through a production process that is environmentally friendly in its essence, meaning all materials and processes, input and outputs are done with the respect for the surrounding natural world and are healthier and safer for people and the environment at all stages of the products’ life cycle.

Production and processing of sustainable fibre and textiles that originate from renewable or recycled sources not only help to reduce the negative impacts to the environment but also supports artists and industry workers in earning a fair wage and ensuring proper working conditions, extends the life of the raw materials and diminish the wastage and pollution of the environment.

Introducing Made in Canada

Made In Canada: Sustainable Fibre Arts Newfoundland and Labrador 2024 follows a model created in successful fibre conferences hosted in the country as well as an international fibre conference held in 2015 by the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador.

With its main focus on sustainability and respect for the land, this event will also introduce new, advanced and traditional techniques during the three days we will gather in the heart of the Gros Morne National Park.

Designed to celebrate the fibre arts, the conference will explore ways in which it can contribute to the economic strengths of rural communities while promoting sustainability in the creation and production of craft and textile art through panel discussion, presentations and focus groups.

An Overview of the Conference

This conference reveals the lineage of craft while showing that it is a vibrant and diverse part of this province’s cultural history – showing that craft has considerable agency and relevance that spans multiple cultural groups and politics.

Geographic isolation has fostered a resourceful artistic community that collaborates between disciplines and draws on our rich narrative culture. It is constantly enriched by artists drawn to this place.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s 500,000+ residents (59% urban, 41% rural) are spread over 400,000 km². Seven percent (7%) of residents identified as Indigenous in 2011; Labrador has the largest populations of Innu, Inuit, and Southern Inuit. The Indigenous population is growing significantly as people join the “recently formed” Qalipu First Nation, one of Canada’s largest bands.

English is the dominant language; French and Indigenous languages are also spoken. Resourcefulness, pride in traditions, and intimate, knowledgeable connections to land and sea inform a distinctive provincial cultural identity.

Cultural diversity is growing as the provincial government encourages immigration. Tourism is a major economic driver; in 2017 and 2018, half a million people visited. These numbers have been reduced by Covid-19, but the vibrant cultural community remains a significant source of value both locally and nationally.

A Look at Some of the Speakers

Indigenous carver artist Gordon Sparks of Pabineau First Nation in New Brunswick and L’nu, Nlaka’pamux artist Megan Samms, from Katalisk, Ktaqmkuk (Newfoundland) are advocates of the connection and respect with nature and traditional knowledge and will be discussing and presenting their practices in the two opening panels of the conference.

Anna Hunter is a first generation sheep farmer and wool mill owner in Eastern Manitoba, Treaty One Territory and will be speaking in the Soil to Soil – Growing Our Fibre in the Canadian Land Base presentation.

Juliana Bedoya is a community-engaged environmental artist who supports individuals and community groups to establish their own cultural significance through skill sharing, including all stages of ethically harvesting and processing raw plant materials for art-making and environmental art practice, she will present the result of years of research and practice on the panel The Paradox on Invasives, From “Weed” to Fibre.

Using locally collected natural materials as well as handmade paper and natural threads, participants will explore ways of creating small-scale 3-dimensional forms using textile techniques such as sewing, embroidery, coiling etc.

Susan Furneaux’s workshop Shaping Local Materials will invite the participants to create and collaborate with this artist, educator and craft consultant in Newfoundland and Labrador.

This is a sample of the programming and commitment of the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador with the support of Celebrate NL and our partners to opening the discussion on sustainability and craft and the future of our land and artistic practices.

The Future of Fibre Arts

As we move forward in the craft world we have started to have a deep understanding of sustainability within the materials used, the making processes and the need to balance our current needs with the needs of the future craft artists generation.

Through applied skills and material-based knowledge a vast amount of makers are turning into their processes to reconnect with the land surrounding them and how their materials are cultivated and harvested. The fibre artists specifically have been learning to create with found materials in nature, to cultivate their own fibres respecting the balance of their land and harvesting only the necessary for their creation, therefore sustainability becomes a social, cultural, economic and environmental endeavor in which fibre artists are deeply rooted.

Visit the conference’s website for more information.

The Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador (CCNL) is a charity organization dedicated to supporting and growing the industry in our province. You can help us fulfill our mandate and vision for growth by donating to CCNL.  All donations will receive a charity tax receipt. We thank you for your generous contribution!

The Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador
155 Water Street, St. John’s, NL
office 709-753-2749 ext 3 | cell 709-770-4840

Visit their website or check out their profiles on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.

About the Author

Originally from the unceded stolen land of the Tupinambá people, in the country known as Brazil, Bruno Vinhas is passionate about global craft culture which drove his will to work in  gallery and community focused environment.

A bachelor degree in Cultural Tourism and Hospitality has provided Vinhas with the experience of living and working in multiple countries and being immersed in different cultures changed his perspective about art and craft. A queer identified artist and curator, Vinhas started his career in the arts through theatre in Brazil, where he worked as a director, set and costume designer, and teaching. Since leaving his home country he has been part of several different projects including but not limited to curatorial practices, visual arts with focus on textile and multimedia, theatre, film, and dance.

He worked as the curator for the Craft Council of NL Gallery from 2018 until 2023 and currently holds the title of Director of Events & OUtreach for the same not-for-profit organization. Vinhas also curated exhibitions at The Rooms (NL – Canada), the Northern Lights Cultural Pavilion (ON – Canada) and at Somerset House House (London -UK), the latter being a project for the Craft Alliance Atlantic Association representing the four provinces of the canadian Atlantic coast ( PEI, NB, NL and NS).

Bruno won the 2023 Mary MacDonald Excellence in Visual Arts Award which his award thanks an individual or organization whose efforts have helped to sustain and build the visual arts sector in Newfoundland and Labrador. His primary focus in curatorial practices regards accessibility and inclusion in public art space.his primary focus in arts environment regards accessibility and inclusion in public art spaces and conservation and promotion of traditional and contemporary craft practices.

Made in Canada: Sustainable Fibre Arts NL Conference 2024

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