Mi’kai’sto Art Program Welcomes People Into a Blackfoot Space

April 26, 2023


What makes a space meaningful and welcoming? In this project, architecture, art, language and a community landmark work together to achieve these goals. Entro recently completed the planning, management and curation of an ambitious two-year art program for Mi’kai’sto (Red Crow Community College) in Standoff, Alberta, a Kainai Blackfoot community located on the Blood Reserve.

Fifteen Blackfoot and other invited artists have created original commissioned works of art for this new college facility – each responding to the program art committee and Elders’ briefing, which conveyed the aspirations for Mi’kai’sto, for the young people and the community, and the importance of the Blackfoot worldview, storytelling and knowledge transfer that through each work, will welcome people into a Blackfoot space.

An important aspect of this program was to facilitate business opportunities within the local Blackfoot community by developing a program of paid commissions for established and emerging artists. Additionally, the art program master plan was instrumental in helping the College obtain long term institutional art loans, and to achieve financial support for additional purchases of art by craftspeople and artists who do not have a profile outside of the Blackfoot community.

“We wanted people to feel that they are in a Blackfoot space when they entered the building. We thought the very best way to do that is through art. Each individual piece throughout the building conveys our Blackfoot culture, history and ways of knowing. Collectively, the art tells the story of who we are, where we have been and what our future holds. It is a very special place."
– Lionel Weasel Head (Aapoomiita), Chair of the Board of Governors, Mi’kai’sto

"The Red Crow Community College has been a beacon of Blackfoot ways of knowing since its inception. The new Red Crow Community College (Mi’kai’sto) will continue that proud history. As a commissioned artist, to contribute to the continuum of Blackfoot visual culture is truly an honour. The importance and transfer of Blackfoot visual knowledge at the college is one of its main objectives; to honour, to encourage, to research and to celebrate the many creative minds and protocols of the Blackfoot. Red Crow Community College is a gathering place, a lodge that protects, promotes and celebrates our past, present and future."
– Adrian Stimson (Apoiskumapi), member of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation in southern Alberta

"The art program at Mi’kai’sto is truly unique. Artists were invited to convey Blackfoot culture and history through their own creative spirit. This has resulted in a spectacular Blackfoot space – inclusive, welcoming and one steeped in Blackfoot culture."
– Lori Van Rooijen (Pii’Takii), Project Director

The Mi’kai’sto project included the design of a bilingual wayfinding program and exterior cultural monument for the129,000-square-foot facility. The use of Blackfoot language as the primary voice of communications throughout the school is the most culturally significant element of the program and an essential aspect of the Mi’kai’sto identity. Material selection, typography, cultural symbols and patterns combine to express a program that is clear, contextually relevant and integrated with the architecture.

The exterior monument complements the art program’s celebration of Blackfoot culture and stands as a landmark beacon in the community. Its design is derived from the form of a traditional Kainai stand-up headdress. The 22 colourfully patterned and illuminated poles stand in a circle with openings facing East and West, defining an accessible and intimate space for gathering, or the contemplation of the Blackfoot values printed on several of the poles.

Honouring the diversity of Blackfoot experience, voices and culture, the program has helped facilitate meaningful placemaking and community building at Mi’kai’sto.

View a complete listing of the artists and their work here.

Art Program Contributors:
Mary-Beth Laviolette, Independent Curator and Writer
Alberta Foundation for the Arts (AFA), Art Loans

Jason Dziver and Entro