How do communities begin? What, exactly, are the conditions that enable the seed of an idea—a shared passion, a shared space, a shared goal —to germinate and flourish? I use this metaphor intentionally: I want to talk about a garden today. Specifically, I want to talk about how woodworking in Edmonton connects to a garden in C’yele, near Chase, BC and how all of this is triangulated through a party. But first, we need to talk about Ficus.
Ficus is a collective DIY artist space that was founded about five years ago by two woodworkers. It eventually grew into a shared physical space that could be rented by artists-—at one point, about 25 different artists rented space there. The concept was straightforward: rent is expensive and art needs space to flourish. More artists equals cheaper rent for everyone. However, the administrative burden of maintaining the space and looking for new artists (turnover was very high) has become too great and Ficus has slowly been shrinking and is planning to finally close at the end of this month.
But bigger is not always better. Leila, one of three remaining tenants, told me that something sort of magical happened as the space shrank. The conversations became more intimate and more political: whereas the space started out as rather white and straight, this began to change as they thought about how to support queer, racialized and Indigenous communities. Ficus began to think about space in our city. Why do so many buildings remain derelict, and why are there tax incentives to leave them so? Who controls the land? These questions led into conversations about colonization, land sovereignty, and Indigenous rights, which eventually led them to Nourish the Nation.
To say that Nourish the Nation is a garden is an understatement. The garden is an act of political resistance and nourishment by Secwepemc Elder Wolverine. Wolverine was a long time defender of Indigenous sovereignty and was most notably involved with the Ts-Peten/Gustafsen Lake stand-off (the largest paramilitary assault in Canada’s history) twenty years ago. While in his 70s, he began tending an eight acre garden, mostly by himself, giving away almost all of the food he grew to other elders, single families, and camps of land defenders protesting resource extraction. He did this for more than a decade, unpaid, with any funds raised going towards vital infrastructure like a small tractor or irrigation upgrades. Although Wolverine passed away in April, his grandson has taken over the garden.
Which brings us to the party. To celebrate the closure of Ficus, they are hosting Ficus’ Final Fruit Roll-Out, a Halloween dance party and fundraiser for Nourish the Nation. There will be bingo, DJs, and fruit roll-ups at the door. Heritage seeds from Wolverine’s garden will also be available. Fruit and vegetable costumes are encouraged—although I have been assured that queers can happily show up as themselves as declare that they are fruits.
Sometimes the seeds we plant sustain and nourish resistance. Other times, they grow into new communities and spaces that, while fleeting, create new connections that outlive their origins. Both are worth celebrating by dancing our faces off. V