It is truly amazing that in 2020 we can graduate from our living rooms! I would like to start by saying that I am honored to be speaking at this event. This has, and continues to be a tough time for many people and it can be difficult to remain focused on the positives in life. However, as adults emerging from this multidisciplinary institution, we have so much to be grateful for. This new phase of our lives comes at an unpredictable time, with social change and a pandemic that has challenged our economic and social systems. Luckily, art students are very adaptable and are already well versed in answering followup questions about their ‘back up plan’. Right now though, the world needs artists. Artists who are critical thinkers, who use their voices to challenge the status quo. Artists who are diverse in person and practice. The school for contemporary arts provided a space for all of us to grow as individuals, and has encouraged us to put our personal identities into our practices.
Though we are different, we gathered together to share a common space. Sorry visual arts students, but most of us shared the GoldCorp Centre for the Arts in the historic Woodwards building. The irony is not lost on me that our campus, where we learned to be critical thinkers and creators, is a space that was in part funded by a mining company, an extractive practice, and is built on stolen land. Given its location and history, I believe our building provides an opportunity for us to be more accountable for practicing art in ways that do not rely on oppression. Though Woodwards suffers its fair share of controversy, I feel so lucky to have been able to share this space with you, AGAIN, sorry visual art students. At Woodwards, each discipline has a corner that they know best, their favourite classrooms, nearest bathrooms, and the best place to take an 8 hour nap…(officially, these are not overnight stays).
Our space was very important to all of us, and the school’s unique position on unceded Territories of the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh Nations in the heart of the downtown eastside provides an unavoidable reminder: That the power earned through our educational pursuits should not go untapped, but we should use our shared and individual knowledge to benefit not just ourselves, but those we share these spaces with. Everyday on my way to school, as my bus snaked through the downtown eastside, I was reminded what a privilege it is to be able to focus on artistic creation. I am reminded again now, at a time when the collective consciousness has turned to protest social injustice, that, as a white settler, it is my responsibility to empower and listen to the voices of marginalized peoples, particularly those of Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
During my four years at SCA I learned a lot about collaboration. This was encouraged (but also required). I have recently come to realize how valuable these lessons really are as collaboration teaches compromise, to be flexible to change, and to be inspired by others. I feel that all of these qualities are especially important for those of us dealing with immense amounts of change in both our personal lives, and in our society on a whole.
More than anything, I hope our time in school has taught us to value our contribution as artists. Although after four years we can provide elegant answers to questions about our ‘back up plans’, the truth is that we do not need these alternate plans because we are collaborative, critical thinkers who are prepared to take on a changing world. Being an artist is an important responsibility, it is a mechanism for social change and self-reflection. I would like to leave you with some words that are not my own but come from activist and poet Maya Angelou. She said “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” It’s time for us to use what we know, and learn what we don’t, to do better.
Thank you for an unforgettable four years, Congratulations graduates, from my living room to yours.
Indigo Porebska-Smith was born in 1998 in a cottage on Galiano Island. Spending most of her childhood and adolescence on Salt Spring Island she took up dance at the age of thirteen. Indigo trained predominantly at Gulf Islands School of Performing Arts, and Salt Spring Arts Academy. Her passion for dance flourished during workshops with 605 Collective and Out Innerspace where she decided to pursue dance at a postsecondary level. To date, Indigo has trained in ballet, contemporary, and improvisational techniques. In 2016 Indigo began an undergraduate degree at Simon Fraser University where she is currently studying contemporary dance (and will be graduating very soon!). In recent years Indigo has merited several awards and scholarships from SFU including the Dean’s Scholarship for Academic Excellence, Dean’s Honor Roll and Service Awards for community engagement. Currently braving the Covid-19 pandemic, Indigo has begun to work more in the digital realm of video though she hopes to return to live performance in the near future. During her time at university Indigo has worked with artists such as Company 605, Justine Chambers, Noam Gagnon, Helen Walkley and Chick Snipper. She is always looking to make new friends and ignite new collaborations.