Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery

Arts Work Series

SAA’s Arts Work series highlights an arts organization making a positive impact in its community: Welcoming newcomers to the community, the MJMAG’s programming extends to collaborations with community organizations inviting participants to share their own stories. This article was written by Wanda Schmöckel.  

On a cool Saturday afternoon in late September, a crowd assembles in the Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery’s auditorium to hear renowned artist Victor Cicansky in conversation with Curatorial Director Jennifer McRorie.

Downstairs, a gallery full of the 83 year-old’s works – including colourful glazed ceramic forms evoking a fecund array of garden vegetables and fruits – are surrounded by those of his father, Frank Cicansky, a lesser-known but beloved folk artist who, as a young immigrant in the 1920s, moved to the area to work in the dirt hills southwest of Moose Jaw. Victor recalls how Frank’s work ethic and prolific output as a multi-skilled craftsperson and artist inspired his own creative life path, and a career that has seen his works added to countless private and public collections, including the Gardiner Museum, MacKenzie Art Gallery, and the National Gallery of Canada.

The exhibition, entitled Keep on Going, tells the story of a first and second-generation Canadian experience, straddling two worlds while establishing a place for one’s self and future generations. For Christy Schweiger, the MJMAG’s Education Coordinator it’s one example of how the museum’s exhibitions and programming draw links between the region’s settler history and contemporary culture, while the Cicansky family story itself resonates with a community that has seen significantly increased immigration in recent years. According to Statistics Canada, Saskatchewan’s share of Canada’s recent immigrants grew from just under one per cent in 2001 to four per cent in 2016, with more than 47,000 immigrants arriving in the province during this time. In response, MJMAG’s programming extends to collaborations with community organizations like the Moose Jaw Multicultural Council, a non-profit charity that helps new immigrants and refugees acclimatize and settle in to the region. In addition to regularly scheduled tours of the collection and exhibitions, Storyotype, an ongoing program in collaboration with the MJMC’s Newcomer Centre, invites participants to share their own stories with their newfound community at the Gallery.

Schweiger points to some of the challenges the elder Cicansky experienced as a newcomer to the country which are documented in his work; many of Frank Cicansky’s paintings are installed next to panels that provide a backstory to the scenes depicted in his artworks – transcribed in Frank’s own words – with recollections of misunderstandings, work conflicts, and poor living conditions. “When we look at Frank’s work, we’re looking at the story of early immigration,” Schweiger says. “These are stories of discrimination, not getting paid for work, and there were a lot of language barriers.”

Laura Butt, a teacher in the Moose Jaw Multicultural Council’s Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program, attests to the MJMAG’s impact, and how exposing new immigrants and refugees to such exhibitions and programming can smooth the process of integration. “The students enjoy being able to see the art – as well as the history museum, which compliments their Canadian citizenship studies,” she says. “We visit several times a year and there’s something new every few months. It gives the students insights and snapshots into life here that they can interpret without the need for big words, and it helps with our instruction of language and culture – it’s just win-win all around.”

  • Keep on Going remains on view at the Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery until December 30, 2018.