Art-Making November 8, 2021

Creating socially-engaged art in conversation with others: Interview with Making With Place Curatorial Mentor Lisa Myers


Lisa Myers is an independent curator, artist and educator with a keen interest in interdisciplinary collaboration. 

Based in Toronto and Port Severn, she is a member of Chimnissing, Beausoleil First Nation and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change at York University. Myers is an artist and curator and her research focuses on Contemporary Indigenous art and curatorial practice, Indigenous food systems and food sovereignty.

Lisa Myers

Through socially engaged art, she creates gatherings that respond to place, sharing Indigenous foods and reflecting on underrepresented histories and collective forms of knowledge exchange.

Our Making With Place Public Art Project Series has been designed and developed with curatorial mentorship from Lisa. She spoke to us about her art practice and how one of the MWP projects touched her deeply as an artist.

SKETCH: Introduce yourself – How would you describe your art practice?

Lisa Myers: 


Lisa Myers n’diznaakaaz

Nisaawaygaamii kwe n’digoo

Waabsheshee dodem

G’Chiminissing in doonjibaa

Port Severn and Toronto dindaa

Mii o’o minik waa ikidoyaan noongom

I’m Lisa Myers, I’m an artist and curator, I work at York University as an Associate Professor and also a learner of anishinaabemowin. In 2021, I was appointed a York Research Chair in Indigenous Art and Curatorial Practice. My art practice includes stop-motion animation, printmaking, video, audio, performance and socially engaged projects. I delve into stories and experiment with ways to retell or re-construct narratives in sculptural and installation form.

and from then on we lived on blueberries for about a week (2013)

As a curator and artist with a keen interest in interdisciplinary collaboration, my research focuses on Contemporary Indigenous art considering the varied values and functions of elements such as medicine plants and language, sound, and knowledge. Through many media and materials including socially engaged art approaches, my art practice examines place, underrepresented histories/present/futures, and collective forms of knowledge exchange. Part of my curatorial practice includes advocacy for artists needs, in doing so I am passionate at navigating institutional barriers and limitations.

I am currently co-leading an interdisciplinary research project with ecologist Dr Sheila Colla considering wild pollinators, ecology, and art, wherein I have focused on the gardens by the late Mi’kmaw artist Mike MacDonald. I am working towards a retrospective of MacDonald’s artwork to open at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery in the summer of 2022. I am a member of Beausoleil First Nation and is based in both Toronto and Port Severn, ON.



SKETCH: How did you get involved with SKETCH?

Lisa: Although I heard of SKETCH many years ago, I knew it from a distance. I came to SKETCH for the first time when I was cooking for a Native Women in the Arts event quite a few years ago. I was struck by the amazing facilities at SKETCH and instantly was curious about their work. A couple years later I was invited to be a mentor on this Making With Place project. I feel that working with MWP is such an honour because the work the artists are doing is critical and grassroots, which is, I think, extremely rare in the Public Art realm.

SKETCH: What do you think people need to know about the importance of Public Art?

Lisa: Public art has the potential to create a lasting presence in so-called public space and this is something that is important to consider as public art tells the stories of these spaces. So, the importance of public art is within the authorship in terms of whose stories are being told? And what histories/presences do those stories carry? What kind of presence does the public art create within urban space? and how can we use that to transform spaces of whiteness, heteronormativity, heteropatriarchy etc? And I believe that public art can get these conversations started and open important avenues to reflect urban spaces.

A snapshot from Lisa’s Shore Launch project at the Rideau River in Ottawa

SKETCH: What has it been like to work with the artists of MWP?

Lisa: All the projects of MWP are deeply engaged in the process of actual social change and this is extremely special to me because I can see how the work is connected to Toronto communities and each project lead has such strong skills in collaboration. My work with Queering Place touched me on a personal level and working closely with the artists was life changing. As a queer person, I didn’t come out until a bit later in my life and the support and atmosphere of QP reminded me of the difficult times of being unable to express myself in terms of sexual identification, but I would also add that it was healing for me to join the QP crew. I also loved the physical labour on site with that group, we all worked hard together and think that builds a sense of community.

Queering Place’s Artists-in-Residence working on installation in the summer

SKETCH: What do you want the audience to take away when they engage with these projects?

Lisa: I don’t feel that I can say what the takeaway is, I feel that is in part the artists’ intent and the life of the artwork as perceived by the audiences. I would say that these projects are pointing to key issues within the city in subtle and in some cases not so subtle ways, which has the potential for an ongoing process of transformation within communities, for example work My Public Living Room has such an amazing approach to working through masculinity within BIPOC communities here in Toronto, seems that this project is so rooted within the communities it seeks to work with, there is an important working ethic that this group and all the groups know really deeply. Also, I think that the team leads and artists in each MWP group are exceptional at what they do and bring situated knowledge to their work, and I value that very much.

SKETCH: How do you think working with MWP has impacted/changed you as an artist/curator?

Lisa: Working with the artists of MWP has made me reflect on the artistic process in terms of collaboration, consent, and consultation. I am also considering the time involved in collaborative socially engaged work, and the pace of being dedicated to a group process usually goes beyond institutional timing and scheduling. Therefore I see this kind of practice troubling the conveyor belt of programming that institutions – galleries and artist run centres – often adhere to in showing how productive they can be. I like projects that trouble those conventions, I think they are more generative and change the focus to relationship building. I also have been inspired by the amazing facilitation of collaboration, consent, and consultation that I witnessed when talking to the groups. In my work as a curator, I try hard to be careful to pay attention to the small details in caring for those I work with and MWP affirmed that and reminded me of the nuance of this kind of working process.

SKETCH: How has art transformed/is art transforming your life?

Lisa: I am not sure I can answer this, but I will try by saying that art, since I was a kid, has been a way to work through ideas and issues, maybe I would say it’s a way of thinking through and processing things by making and creating. Art can be a release, it can be an assertion. And both, I feel, are powerful ways to be in conversation with others, to inspire critical discussions and to disagree too. I was fortunate to be able to find this in art and thankful I had the situation in my life that I could pursue it further.