Artist, designer, curator and community advocate Lou-ann Neel (BFA 2015) has won a Fulmer Award in First Nations Art from the BC Achievement Foundation (BCAF).
Lou-ann, who comes from a family of renowned Kwakwaka’wakw artists including Charlie James, Mungo Martin, Ellen Neel and Kevin Cranmer, told Victoria News she grew up viewing creative work as something a person simply did, rather than as a calling to a life of exception.
“I just didn’t think anything I did was anything special because I’ve been surrounded by artists my whole life, and my whole thing was, I want to be as good as them. I’ve never seen myself so much as an artist,” she said.
“When I was learning to design, that’s when I realized it’s not just a great privilege to learn but it’s kind of a family obligation to continue our own family tradition.”
Lou-ann has been practicing Kwakwaka’wakw design for more than 40 years. Her practice includes working in jewelry, textiles and hides, paintings and prints, and digital applications including animation, storybook illustration and 3D printing.
“I put my work out there as a symbol and a signifier of who I am and who our people are.”
“One of Lou-ann’s first passions was carving, and she is continuing to practice the techniques she learned through an apprenticeship in wood carving with her brother, Kevin Cranmer,” the BCAF’s press release says.
“In addition to her artistic practice, Lou-ann is a community arts advocate — always seeking to build solutions that will enable Indigenous artists to balance their respective rights, responsibilities and obligations with new, contemporary expressions of their work.”
As Curator of Indigenous Collections and Acting Head of Indigenous Collections and Repatriation Department at the Royal BC Museum, Lou-ann “[works] closely with BC First Nations communities to address repatriation matters,” the statement adds.
The jury for this year’s prize included Associate Director of Aboriginal Programs at ECU Connie Watts, and Director of Aboriginal Programs Brenda Crabtree, who is also Special Advisor to the President on Indigenous Initiatives. Lou-ann’s fellow 2020 recipients are Jaalen Edenshaw, Kelly Robinson, Cole Speck, Evelyn Vanderhoop and Nathan Wilson.
BC Achievement is an independent foundation established in 2003 to celebrate community service, arts, humanities and enterprise. The Fulmer Award in First Nations Art is made possible through the support of the Vancouver-based Fulmer Foundation.
In a video celebrating Lou-ann’s practice, she says winning the Fulmer Award was “probably the biggest surprise of my life.”
“It’s strange, because … when I go about my art I just go about my art. A lot of artists I’ve spoken to, they don’t think that what they do is anything special. They just do what they were taught. It’s most important that you believe in yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t. Make that the reason why you do. I put my work out there as a symbol and a signifier of who I am and who our people are. That’s when I feel like I’m an artist.”