Elsa Robinson is a multidisciplinary artist and art instructor based in Amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton). Through careful attention to colour, shape, texture, intuition and the power of cultural symbols, Elsa expresses themes of love, friendship, inner strength, equality and ancestral connection that guide her own life. As a passionate and experienced arts educator, Elsa facilitates workshops for artists of all ages and experience levels.
After working as a self-taught artist, Elsa earned a Bachelor of Arts in Art and Design from the University of Alberta and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Vermont College of Fine Art. She also received the National Black Coalition of Canada 2012 Fill Fraser Award for Outstanding Work in Visual Arts. She was shortlisted for the 2022 Eldon and Anne Foote Edmonton Visual Arts Prize and received the 2022 Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal.
Has the art scene changed over the years in Edmonton?
Yes, it has. We have more artists working on a broader variety of genres and the arts organizations respond to our needs and support us with relevant programming and opportunities.
What are some happy memories you can share with us of your journey?
This journey has given me many happy memories and milestones. I remember my very first art show. I submitted my first portrait painting for a Workers’ art show. It was a mixed-media textile piece. I still have it. I was so proud of myself! A more recent milestone was completing my Master of Fine Arts degree at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Initially, I was so afraid of attending that school that even after receiving the acceptance letter, I postponed starting the program for one year.
Taking the MFA was a tremendous and very successful endeavor. The most critical moment at that time was at the graduation ceremony. In that school, it is the family who presents the diplomas. My joy was immeasurable when my mother walked across that stage and handed me my diploma! Years before, I told my mother I wanted to become an artist. She encouraged me and supported me unwaveringly, so being able to celebrate that achievement with her meant everything to me. Throughout the years, having my children and grandson attend my shows are always ‘happiest’ moments for me. I stand tall for them and with them.
In a sentence, how would you describe your legacy to the world of art and to the city of Edmonton?
Honestly, I cannot identify, much less describe, my legacy in Edmonton’s art world. Others will be more equipped to do that. Life has blessed me and continues to bless me with teachers who taught me many important lessons. I infuse all this knowledge and wisdom into my art with purpose and beauty. I have my own goals for my art career and work steadfastly to achieve them.
What are the barriers for artists today? Are they surmountable?
Many artists are concerned with the lack of affordable studio space as well as a lack of opportunities to show their work. We will continue to find ways to address these issues.
Another concern for artists is that few of us have a full-time studio practice, which many want. However, some artists are comfortable with having a day job related to their art. Others are comfortable having a day job unrelated to their art. Each of us finds the best solution for ourselves.
Artists are the spokespersons of our world; what type of conversations do we need to have to advance the arts in Edmonton today?
One crucial conversation to address concerns is recognizing the value of art in building community capacity. Artists need to find more ways to integrate our work into our community. Some artists are already doing an excellent job at that. Others will learn and grow in this over time.
Community members need to accept that artists are professionals who have professional standards. Yes, we have a natural ‘gift’ or inclination towards making art. In that way, we are the same as teachers with a genuine ‘gift’ or inclination for instruction and classroom management. The professional is committed to developing the ‘gift’ through study, consistent practice and growth.
Are Black youths receptive to the arts? Are they willing to learn new things?
Youth in the African Caribbean Black community is no different from youth from other ethnocultural communities. Love for the arts and a desire to become an artist is an individual preference. Some youth love art, some love literature, some love science. Youths receptive to the arts are willing to learn new ways of expressing their ideas and feelings.
Do you find time to read? What was the last book you read?
I make time to read, especially to build my art practice. I really appreciate audiobooks I can read while working in the studio. I just finished reading a book titled Nanny’s Asafo Warriors, The Jamaican Maroons’ African Experience by Werner Zips. Queen Nanny – as we call her in Jamaica – is Jamaica’s only female National Hero. She was a Maroon leader who successfully waged war against the British over many decades to maintain her people’s freedom during slavery. In this book, the author shows the parallels between leadership structures and traditions in the Maroon communities in Jamaica and those of the Asante people in West Africa. It is a compelling and inspiring book.
What do you do for mental health?
First of all, I stay close to myself and to my truth. Secondly, I make art. I also stay close to my family, pray, eat healthy, and surround myself with beautiful people and things that bring me positive energy and enhance my life.
Find out more about Elsa Robinson by visiting: www.elsarobinson.com