Indigenous education coordinator building community at art gallery

Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Arlene Deptuck is committed to helping cultivate understanding

Arlene Deptuck is committed to helping cultivate understanding of indigenous cultures and forging relationships between all Canadians.

Deptuck came on board as the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s indigenous education coordinator late last year. Since that time, she has been involved in a number of projects. Deptuck is Kitsumkalum of the Tsimshian Nation and said she is grateful to “live, work and play” in the Snuneymuxw and Snaw-naw-as territories.

Deptuck worked for about 20 years as an aboriginal education assistant and said that role was continuously pushing her to be creative.

“I’ve always had that creative drive and that transferred over here now, as far as any project in particular we are always keeping it really open,” she said, adding that the art gallery is taking inspiration from what is happening in the community.

Julie Bevan, Nanaimo Art Gallery executive director, said the initiative to create the indigenous education coordinator position was a way for the gallery to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations and it also fit into the wider movement of reconciliation in Canada.

“As a public art museum, the Nanaimo Art Gallery, I think, has an important responsibility in the community to be a leader in some of these conversations so we looked at several initiatives that our staff and team could undertake,” said Bevan.

She said the art gallery has been doing a “pretty good job” bringing talented and diverse indigenous artists from across Canada to showcase their work at the gallery. However, she said staff and board members thought the gallery could improve on welcoming and inviting diverse indigenous communities who live in the region into the gallery and help them connect with programs.

“It’s really part of the gallery’s overall plan to reflect the rich cultural diversity that’s in this region and connect with audiences here in a really meaningful way, so that they know this is a place for everyone,” said Bevan.

To recognize the cultural diversity of the area, the art gallery has worked to incorporate the Snuneymuxw Hul’q’umin’um’ language into the organization.

The gallery has added the greeting Thixwum ’i’ m’i ch Nuw’il in addition to bienvenue and welcome at the entrance to the gallery.

Deptuck said she is a “big indigenous language revitalization advocate.”

“I’m always dreaming up ways of how we can allow those indigenous language learners in our own community feel supported in the whole big community, so the team was really great with including the indigenous welcome on our new signage,” she said. “To me that’s huge. It’s really, really big because language is so closely connected with the land.”

Deptuck said her experiences as a youth reinforced her drive to support young indigenous people feel more confident about their identity.

The position of indigenous education coordinator was funded by the B.C. Arts Council. During her time at the art gallery, Deptuck will also be mentored by Gerald Wesley, chief negotiator for the Tsimshian First Nation Treaty Society, and Cathi Charles-Wherry, arts programmer for the First People Cultural Council.

For more information about the Nanaimo Art Gallery, visit

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