The Indigenous Arts Collective of Canada (IACC) is a nonprofit organization that preserves and revitalizes endangered Indigenous art forms by promoting the transfer and conservation of cultural knowledge. IACC helps women artists pass down spiritual knowledge through art while working to create a sense of equality.
Dawn Setford founded IACC in 2012 to help Indigenous women heal through artist support. “I understand firsthand the trauma that Indigenous women have faced over centuries and face today so if I can contribute to that healing, I will,” she says.
IACC creates community spaces, workshops, and resources for these Indigenous women. IACC now has around 350 members that use the platform’s free marketing, artist directory, and multi-vendor e-commerce website Indigenartsy.
Indigenartsy was created during Covid to help artists whose sales were dependent on in-person events like Pow-Wows. Members can sign up for free, create their own store on the website, and have their pieces marketed. Setford explains, “We’re enabling them [members] to create and sell their work without having to dive into the complicated parts of e-commerce.”
Setford shared the specific story of Marleen Murphy, an artisan and mother devoted to the craft of ceramics. Murphy’s entire livelihood was based on Pow-Wow sales, and when COVID hit, she was terrified and confused about selling online. With help from Setford, Murphy started posting on Indigenartsy, and now understands the website’s simplistic interface. She continues to sell her products on the website, despite the return of in-person events.
The sale of Indigenous arts is a viable industry, with a report by the Conference Board of Canada and the Future Skills Centre showing that the Inuit arts and crafts economy supported the equivalent of 2,700 full-time jobs and $87.2 million in GDP in 2017. This industry could be more profitable, but a lack of marketing and e-commerce training prohibits equitable market access. IACC is helping overcome this obstacle with its members by making e-commerce accessible.
Despite helping alleviate some e-commerce barriers, Indigenous artists are still disadvantaged in the colonized art world. Setford describes how galleries have firm criteria (e.g. BA in Fine Arts) that bar many Indigenous artists. Setford also mentions how non-indigenous galleries do not typically seek Indigenous artists because their owners are uncomfortable with their history of marginalizing Indigenous communities. “It’s very hard for non-Indigenous people to come back and knock on that door knowing that historically they are the ones that pushed us away,” she says.
Supporting Indigenous art is essential for breaking down those barriers, pushing back on marginalization, and contributing to equality. Setford explains that consumers can contribute to equality by giving everyone in their community, including local Indigenous artists, the same chance at financial wellbeing. As Setford describes, “For most of the population in Canada, economic health contributes to physical, mental, and spiritual health.”
The financial health of IACC could be improved if the Canadian Revenue Agency created an HST exemption for small, grassroots nonprofits, Setford notes. The shirts Setford sold to fundraise and memorialize Indigenous children were taxed. She says, “Forcing me to collect HST on crimes against Indigenous people will not only destroy my spirit but it will completely dissolve my small non-profit organization. I do not have time to be a full-time volunteer for Indigenous women as well as a volunteer for the CRA.”
To learn more about current CRA regulations and about IACC, follow the links below: