Brenda Dunn is visual artist and creator. This year for Art Place she will be in-residence with youth at the Adoption Council of Canada. She will lead them through empowering storytelling by building 3-D creatures to serve as their guardian.
The origin story of Brenda’s Art Place workshop begins in her neighbourhood during the Hintonburg Happening Festival, when she created the Hintonbeast project. “The monsters were hidden in shops around the neighbourhood and represeneted something about the business. We played this game, like Pokemon©, where you had to collect them all and people would go from shop to shop and interact with the owners and each other. I began to see how people got attached to the characters; children and grown-ups alike were affected by the monsters. People saw something I made and it made them want to make something. So we started workshops where people got to make monsters and create stories to accompany them.”
Witnessing people in her workshops inspired Brenda to take it to the next level. “Some people connected really personally while making their creature and I liked the idea that this could be as light or as heavy as people wanted it,” she says. “I am kind of silly when I run the workshops, it’s a lot like a hosting a children’s show, but there are moments when I see people creating these creatures and I can tell that they are putting what they want for themselves into the creature. It was during these workshops that Tabitha from the Adoption Council of Canada approached me saying that this would be great for the youth she works with. I wanted to keep working on the idea so when I heard about Art Place I thought it was a perfect fit.”
As an artist, Brenda’s goal is to make art more accessible to the public. “I prefer the word creative
because I think it broadens the concept of artist into something a little more interactive,” she explains. “I think the term ‘artist’ tends to be very inward focused. The first thing a lot of people say when they hear the word ‘is oh my god I’m not an artist, I am not artistic at all.’ I think the only reason that happens is because someone along the way has given them the impression that they are not suited for that, that they are not allowed in that special club. I focus a lot of energy and attention on getting rid of those misconceptions.”
This shapes how Brenda approaches art. “I want to do things that engage other people, things that are funny, a little bit
tongue and cheek. In my art I try to incorporate a bit of gamification. Anyone who thinks they are not an artist just hasn’t been given enough of an opportunity to learn what that word means.”
Promoting art is another way to make art more accessible and Brenda is actively involved in Ottawa’s arts and culture community. She is a member of the Young Arts Leaders Collective, the Hintonburg Happening, she reviews for Apt613 and is currently working on a pet project called the Ottawa Gallery Map.
Working in the arts is something that both came naturally and out of the blue for Brenda. Though she studied Fine Arts in university, English was her bread winning degree and for many years she worked in the corporate world. “I learned a lot of interesting things, but then one day my position was gone, and it was absolutely wonderful. I was lucky because it was the equivalent of someone buying me time to figure out what I wanted and I was already up to my ears in art. Being pushed into it from my corporate background has really helped though and I think I have had more success because of it,” she says. “You have to be proactive. I ask myself what I am excited about right now and then I try to fund it. This is my gig now. It’s no hero story.”
Art Place is the next part of Brenda’s journey and she is looking forward to being both a facilitator and collaborator with the youth at the Adoption Council of Canada. “What I am really hoping to do is give them a creative outlet. I want to show them that creating things is awesome and that you can make stuff without being too worried about the outcome. It’s great because as I watch them go through the making process and I get to react in my own creative way.”