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2024 Artist in Residence: Dan Cardinal McCartney

Dan Cardinal McCartney is one of the artists who will be in residence in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo, joining us through the Suncor Indigenous Artist Program. Dan was raised in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo and recently returned to the region when his artwork was featured in the exhibition “ᒣᐢᑲᓇᐊᐧ ᑯᑎᑯᑕᑳᐧᐤ Intersections“, curated by Jes Croucher at the Jubilee Centre Lobby. ACWB welcomes Dan back to the region from April 30-May 17, as Artist in Residence through the Suncor Indigenous Artist Program. 



ACWB: Tell us about your connection to Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo and what excites you about being in residence here.


DCM: My connection to Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo is that I was born in the municipality’s Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, and raised primarily in Abasand and downtown on Alberta Drive. In my early childhood, I became part of the foster care system and was placed in different homes until landing in long-term foster care to the McCartney family. My connection runs deep to the region, as Wood Buffalo is the traditional territory of my maternal family and ancestors, including Fort Chipewyan.


It will be great to return to Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo, as the residency provides me with meaningful support as an artist and allows me to create artwork in general and within my family’s ancestral territory.


ACWB: How did you get your start as an interdisciplinary artist and curator? 


DCM: My start as a professional artist is deeply rooted in the support and guidance from others within my creative community across Alberta. It ultimately stems from my long-term foster care mother, Carolyn McCartney, who nurtured a love for art both as a parent and an early-child educator in Wood Buffalo spanning over 30 years. My aunt, Shirley Cardinal, also reminds me that I come from a long maternal line of artists, from beaders to regalia makers, oil painters, and fiddlers.


My journey as an interdisciplinary artist and curator began with fantastic art class teachers at Fort McMurray’s Composite High School. I then transferred to Keyano College to complete my Visual Art and Design. Erin Schwabb, my leading professor and my college classmates, profoundly influenced me during the most formative years of my art practice. I moved to Calgary in 2013 and received my Bachelor of Fine Arts at Alberta University of the Arts. Since graduating, I’ve been fortunate to exhibit across Canada.


Currently, I am the Co-Artistic Director at Stride Gallery, an artist-run centre gallery in downtown Calgary. I primarily work with and curate emerging artists from southern Alberta. Stride’s Executive Director started my curatorial practice, Areum Kim, encouraging me to leap curating from smaller-scale projects to organising a four-person group exhibition in our main gallery space. The exhibition I curated, Process: Presence and Resurgence, is now at Stride Gallery and will open until May 24th, 2024.



ACWB: Tell us about what you plan to do during your residency. 


DCM: My plan for the Suncor Indigenous Artist program is to create three mixed-media collages on wooden birch panels over the three weeks, combining new, original photographs of Fort McMurray with found collage images embedded with passages of text. I aim to honour my ancestors and the history of the land by starting each residency week by visiting and photographing near the Horse, Athabasca, and the Hanging Stone River. Each collage will represent each river.


In August 2023, I had the honour of showcasing my artwork, including a mixed media collage series titled “I saw the arrival”, for the group exhibition “ᒣᐢᑲᓇᐊᐧ ᑯᑎᑯᑕᑳᐧᐤ Intersections”, curated by Jes Croucher at the Jubilee Centre Lobby in Fort McMurray. The title “I Saw the Arrival” is derived from The Book of Dene, in which the Missionaries translated stories and legends from my ancestors in Suline Dene to French and then to English for a 1971 first publication. Publicly sharing my art, specifically with and for my family on our traditional territory, was incredibly meaningful.


For the three collages, I will carefully pull back the layers of photographs, which reveal one-of-a-kind images of birch. I need to represent the region I am from as an Indigenous person, and the birch wood is to represent the Boreal forest of Treaty 8 territory. I aim to paint passages of text from the Book of Dene between the layers of photographs, further intertwining the past and present by including the words of my ancestors. In attending the Suncor Indigenous Artist program, my main goal through my collages is to express appreciation for the land’s inherent beauty and resiliency after the 2016 wildfire.


I am also excited to share collage techniques by hosting art workshops in Fort Chipewyan and Fort McMurray during my residency and connecting with the local creative community.



ACWB: Through your residency, you will be returning to the place in which you grew up. What does it mean to you, to be able to come back to Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo through your career as an artist? 


DCM: Returning to Fort McMurray in my career as an artist, similar to last year’s exhibition in ᒣᐢᑲᓇᐊᐧ ᑯᑎᑯᑕᑳᐧᐤ Intersections, it feels surreal and healing. My late long-term foster father, Will McCartney, a proud and hardworking provider for our family who has worked in the oilsands since the 1970s, encouraged me to commit to my full pursuit as a visual artist. I still, deep down, consider Wood Buffalo my home and cherish any time I can return.


As for myself, my maternal family and ancestors are from the region, so returning to the land anytime is a meaningful experience for me. It means a huge deal to me personally and professionally to return to Wood Buffalo on many levels. There is a fantastic, vibrant arts community in Wood Buffalo, and it’s great to see creative practices flourish in 2024. It’s great to see the creative successes within the place I grew up!



ACWB: Your residency will involve exploring archival images of the region. What do you hope to discover through this process?


DCM: I’m very interested in previous documentation of the region, spanning from buildings, transportation, people, and the landscape across visually recorded history. In part, by exploring the archives, I aim to develop a deeper understanding of the rich, vast history of the region by witnessing the changes to the region over time. I am also hoping, through a technical, artistic lens, to take note of what was recorded and the focus of the visual storytelling by photographers. As an Indigenous person from the area, I aim within my collages to create a new type of documentation through my creation. It’s important within my creative process to also visually refer back to the archival images in a direct way, not in composition and style, linking past and present in the region.



ACWB: What else do you look forward to experiencing during your time in Wood Buffalo? 


DCM: I’m looking forward to connecting with local community members in Wood Buffalo, including my family and friends. My participation in the Suncor Indigenous residency allows me to return to Wood Buffalo for the third time since moving to Calgary over a decade ago.


Heritage Village was one of my favourite places in Wood Buffalo when I was growing up. I can’t wait to revisit the historical buildings alongside newly renovated ones. I’m excited to venture along the trails in Fort McMurray that I’ve enjoyed with my family and take the plane ride to Fort Chipewyan for the first time! I love seeing familiar and new aspects within Wood Buffalo every time I visit.



ACWB: What would your advice be for aspiring and emerging artists? 


DCM: My advice for aspiring and emerging artists is to delve deep into the creation process, not just the end result. Each individual possesses artistic potential and should be allowed to explore, create, and share. Remember, the act of observing and experiencing life is often a crucial aspect of being an artist, both within and beyond the studio. While productivity may fluctuate, focusing on the creative process can help you navigate through waves of criticism, which can be detrimental to your creativity.


Try to keep your hands busy as much as you can across your chosen medium. Finding the time to create within busy schedules can be challenging. Still, even a small sketch or brainstorming map can help an artist be incredibly generative. Find trusted friends and colleagues to exchange ideas, view each other’s artwork, keep one another accountable to deadlines, and provide feedback to one another on a regular basis. Online presence is essential, but remember to venture out and meet other artists in the local community! Reaching out to others, just like artmaking, can be intimidating. Still, community building is also one of the most enriching parts of being an artist. Keep going; someone out there needs to view your art!


About Dan


Dan Cardinal McCartney is an interdisciplinary artist and emerging curator who holds a degree from AUArts (2016) in Drawing. Dan’s focus is on mixed media collage, painting, moving images, and performance. He is of Athabasca Chipewyan, Mikisew Cree, Métis, and settler family lines. Dan’s maternal family is from Fort Chipewyan and the surrounding Treaty 8 region, and he is a foster care survivor raised in the northern region of Fort McMurray, Alberta.


As a Two-Spirit, transgender artist, Dan sifts through patterns of intergenerational trauma, and troubles the colonial narrative of hyper individuality. He relates his personal, ongoing reconnection of his family to his yearning for gender euphoria through storytelling. Dan’s interest primarily lies in the contemporary Indigenous horror genre.


His work has since been featured in Fix your hearts or die at the Alberta Gallery of Art; let’s talk about sex, bb at Agnes Etherington Arts Centre, and Off-Centre: Queer Contemporary Art in the Prairies at the Dunlop in Regina. Dan is the 2021 winner of the William & Meredith Saunderson Prize for Emerging Canadian Artists from The Hnatyshyn Foundation, alongside being awarded the Emerging Arts Management Award by the Rozsa Foundation in 2022.


Dan is currently the Co-Artistic Director at Stride Gallery in Calgary, AB, a Core Member of Ociciwan Contemporary Art Centre, and a collective curatorial member of Window Winnipeg at Arts Space in Manitoba.