InStudio: Animating Our Stories

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Spread from Monique Gray Smith's My Heart Fills With Happiness, artwork by Julie Flett provided with permission from Orca Book Publishers. 

This article originally appeared in the 2019 Spring/Summer issue of InStudio magazine. Learn more and download the issue here

I come from a family of artists, though it feels like I don’t have much artist in me some days. My hands shake, blurring the lines of creation and obscuring that which I would like to bring to life. My son, however, seems to have inherited the artistic talent in the family. I watch him bent over his drawing desk, creating his latest masterpiece, manipulating his pencil over the page to make something out of nothing. It inspires me and makes me feel proud to be his mom. 

While I’m not an artist, I am a storyteller—an Indigenous storyteller. Historically, storytelling was primarily an oral tradition among my people. My voice as a storyteller is that of an Indigenous woman of the internet age. Despite the best efforts of colonization, the stories of my people remain, but it’s the way these stories are shared with the world that’s changed. The method of transmission has shifted from one voice, to one book, to one ebook, film, blog, tweet, Facebook post, or Instagram story. The medium has changed but the message remains: we are still here.

Our perspectives are still here. Our culture is vibrant and alive. 

To that end, a new program through Banff Centre’s Indigenous Arts department called Animating Our Stories gives an opportunity to package our stories in a new way. The residency is designed to help Indigenous storytellers relay their narratives to young audiences by creating immersive and educational worlds. With guidance from the program’s faculty and an illustrator, participants will bring their stories to life through animation and digital media. 

I spoke with lead faculty member for the program, Monique Gray Smith, who shared her perspective of how Animating Our Stories comes together with the atmosphere of Banff Centre. For Monique, the Centre provides the opportunity to remove oneself from “busy”—to connect with nature, quiet, stillness and just create. 

 “When they take that time to pause and connect, the ideas come,” says Monique. “And then to be able to go into an environment—a place that has [the technology] and the most amazing support people to help them bring that story, illustration, and animation to life—that’s powerful, I think.” 

Spread from Monique Gray Smith's You Hold Me Up, artwork by Danielle Daniel provided with permission from Orca Book Publishers. 

A psychiatric nurse-turned-writer, Monique credits the development of her craft to the skill of “noticing” things, which she honed as a nurse. For Monique, the art of play is central to the process of creating. In that sense, Animating Our Stories  is the chance to not only work hard to create something, but also to have fun doing it.

It’s a chance for emerging or established Indigenous writers and illustrators of narrative fiction or poetry for young readers to bring a completed work to life in the creative chrysalis of Banff Centre. Their interest in digital storytelling techniques doesn’t need to be supported by previous experience with digital media, but rather by a desire to delve into new forms of storytelling. 

Faculty comprised of Indigenous authors, a graphic designer, and a digital animator will facilitate the process, helping to fuse the art of storytelling with modern technology. It’s a collaboration that allows storytellers, content producers, and digital media artists to explore technology together and allow the structures of their practices to evolve. 

This program provides a unique and important opportunity. Sharing our stories helps keep our culture—Indigenous culture—alive. It allows us, as Indigenous people, to contribute to the broader community through our creative work. The integration of digital media within storytelling is also particularly fitting—Indigenous people have always been innovators.

Animating Our Stories is a natural extension of that spirit of innovation, with a reverence for art, which I appreciate coming from a family of artists and raising a budding artist myself. It allows the storytellers of today to bring their stories to life in new ways for the audiences of tomorrow.

Indigenous Arts at Banff Centre is generously supported by RBC and The Slaight Family Foundation.