Victoria’s Belfry Theatre is enhancing the relationship among theatre staff and patrons, First Nation artists, and members of the community, with the launch of its Indigenous Exchange Program.

Belfry’s Executive Director Ivan Habel explains that it is a two-fold program.

“We hired a core member of the staff, an Indigenous Cultural Advisor. That’s the first piece” says Habel.

“And the second piece is that we opened up residency periods for indigenous artists or cultural workers to work within the Belfry to gain whatever experience they wanted to gain.  And also to help inform the Belfry about indigenous ways of practicing, and how that might influence the work that we do in the future here.”

The program came about through a partnership with Full Circle: First Nations Performance Society in Vancouver.

“They had been running an ensemble program” explains Habel “which is kind of a training program for people who want to work in indigenous performing arts, or in the performing arts in general, and we started a conversation with them about how to extend that [to the Belfry].”

The Belfry has also created a new staff position, believed to be the first of its kind in Canada: an Indigenous Cultural Advisor to support First Nation artists.

“It is exciting to everyone,” says Kristy Charlie, who accepted the position. “For both the indigenous community, and the non-indigenous community, it’s a great thing.”

As cultural advisor, Charlie will be working with staff and artists at the theatre, and also will “reach out and build connections with the local communities, our host nations, the Esquimalt and Songhees, and then also have an indigenous presence within the building to welcome our indigenous artists and guests” explains Charlie.

The Belfry staff are grateful to the Victoria Foundation for their help with funding this program.

“I was doing a bit of juggling on the internal budgets to see how we could make it go. It was a bit worrying” admits Habel.

Habel applied for a grant from the Victoria Foundation.

“They came forward with a two-year support grant that is really going to be fundamental in ensuring that we can maintain the program.   It’s been an incredible, incredible help in getting the program launched” says Habel.

“It is a great honour for me” adds Charlie.  “I’m finding myself in a transformation, actually, where my life is changing in more cultural aspects, and I’m growing as an individual.”

Veronica Cooper