Indigenous arts leader Jesse Wente named head of Canada Council for the Arts

Indigenous arts leader Jesse Wente named head of Canada Council for the Arts

Indigenous arts leader Jesse Wente named head of Canada Council for the Arts

OTTAWA — Jesse Wente, a prominent advocate for an increased presence of Indigenous voices in Canada’s cultural landscape, has been appointed chairperson of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Wente, an Anishinaabe writer, broadcaster and speaker, takes the role after years of involvement with the council, and at a tumultuous time for artists grappling with the fallout from efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In an interview Tuesday, Wente said he was thrilled and honoured by the appointment.

“It’s a very big obligation both for Canada, the broad Canadian public, but also I’m a First Nations guy and whenever we take on these leadership positions, there is an obligation back to the community,” he said.

The issues thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic go beyond the demise of festivals large and small, the end of major concert hall performances or galleries devoid of visitors.

As bookstores reopen, for example, publishers are bracing for the return of thousands of unsold copies, creating additional financial pressures for an industry that already saw sales plummet during the spring.

While the federal government has provided $500 million in emergency support funding for cultural, heritage and sport organizations, additional requests for funds keep pouring in.

Wente said he sees the pandemic as providing a pivotal moment, noting that artists always find a way forward.

“In these moments of trauma, as it has been for so many, there is an opportunity to reprioritize, reorient and really understand what is important,” he said.

In announcing Wente’s appointment Tuesday, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said Wente is the first Indigenous chairperson of an organization within his federal portfolio.

Wente is a member of the Serpent River First Nation, and his years in the arts sector have included extensive work promoting and developing Indigenous culture, including being hired two years ago as the first executive director of the industry-led Indigenous Screen Office.

The pandemic, and also the ongoing national debate around eliminating systemic racism in all facets of Canadian life, open up an opportunity for the council — and Canadians — to reflect, he said.

“It is a moment where a lot of people’s privileges are exemplified and also being stripped away,” he said.

As a self-professed “film nerd,” Wente said he has spent a career advocating for equity and inclusion for Indigenous voices.

His appointment, Wente said, is an example of the Canada Council for the Arts doing what other arts organizations must: elevate Indigenous voices.

Arts and culture are meant to help shape national identity and the national discourse he said, and can play a role in achieving more inclusion and equity throughout the country.

“All my work comes down to how to achieve those things,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

Art

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

cat
Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler provides support through animal interaction

‘I also come from a family of doers - if something that is needed isn’t there, you just figure it out’

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which causes COVID-19, emerge from the surface of cells isolated from a patient in the U.S. and cultured in a lab in a 2020 electron microscope image. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Alberta now has 17,743 active cases of COVID-19

Province now has 17,743 active cases

town
Town of Castor meeting highlights from the Nov. 23rd meeting

Castor’s town council has approved an interim budget going into 2021

county
The County of Paintearth Council has approved the 2021 operational and capital budgets

Capital spending approved for 2021 amounts to just over $3.8 million

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council squashes mask bylaw

The bylaw did not make it past first reading, after a 4-3 vote defeated the motion

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

Team Manitoba celebrate after defeating Team Ontario to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask., Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. Curling Canada wants Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park to be a curling hub for the season’s top events. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary facility set to become curling hub during pandemic

Curling Canada has provisional approval for Calgary’s hub-city concept from Alberta Health

Most Read