Tech spurs new business model for First Nations art

Opening Doors 2 Aboriginal Gathering Place

By Karin Watson | filed in Emily Carr in the Press

Posted on February 09, 2016 | Updated June 10, 2019, 11:07AM

A new program using computer technology aims to help First Nations carvers find a larger, more international market for their work.

Article by Marcie Good, BC Business, February 5, 2016

A new program using computer technology aims to help First Nations carvers find a larger, more international market for their work. The B.C. Coast Aboriginal Doors Program is the brainchild of Chris Gaston, UBC forestry professor and university liaison at FPInnovations, and Brenda Crabtree, Aboriginal program manager at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. The program aims to promote Aboriginal artists and is supported by FP Innovations, a nonprofit that supports scientific research and technology transfer in the Canadian forest industry.

“Aboriginal art is an estimated $2-billion market worldwide, but only for a few select, high-end artists, with galleries making the majority of the money,” said Gaston. “We hope that the training and application ofcomputer-assisted machining technologies will lead to added wealth for the artists and First Nations communities.”
Last summer, 10 artists from indigenous communities across B.C. received four weeks of intensive lessons from master carvers at Emily Carr and at the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art in Terrace. They each carved a door panel by hand from local red and yellow cedar.

A typical door panel made by a master carver can sell for $20,000. Gaston is hoping that computer-numerical control technology, or CNC, can allow less-established artists to find a wider market for their work. Commonly used in woodworking, the computer controls a router, which cuts wood into a specific shape and size. Reproductions of the door panels made using this technology could be priced between $2,000 and $5,000, and these could tap into a wider market and result in higher sales figures for the artists.