Amateur ufologist and supernatural investigator, sculptor and zine maker Rebecca Blankert takes the reins of Fredericton’s only artist run centre.
Artist run centres are important. There is no other way to say it. And while each center is different, operating under its own set of parameters and guiding principles, their collective purpose remains universal – to foster and support the work of artists working across a wide range of disciplines including those whose work falls outside the boundaries of convention. Driven by the belief that art can truly be anything and be made from anything, these organizations can often represent the beacon of hope many creators seek in justifying their craft, however conventional or unusual they may be.
For almost 40 years now, Fredericton’s Connexion Artist Run Centre has kept a light on for contemporary art practice in the city through programming that not only encourages artists or would-be artists working outside the mainstream to continue their own unique journeys, but also by creating a variety of supporting initiatives and resources to help each artist find and develop their own audience. There are few rules, and that’s just fine. Art should never be restricted.
So from this perspective, it only makes sense that Connexion Artist Run Centre’s new artistic director is an amateur ufologist and supernatural investigator, a sculptor and a zine maker.
“I collect witness stories about the supernatural and alien encounters and I make them into sculptures and things,” said Rebecca Blankert, Connexion’s newly appointed artistic director. “I’ve been collecting stories since I was probably 16 years old. I used to live in Alberta and at one point my parents banned me from driving around the province to meet up with strangers and collect their stories. I haven’t done much collecting in a few years, but people tell me their stories as soon as they learn what my interests are.
“I actually just got a Canada Council grant to work on this. My plan is to make a zine about this work and create some sculptures using arduinos and that kind of stuff,” she said.
“My thoughts are always artist-centric. Whatever I can facilitate for the artists, that’s the end game for me.”
Blankert holds a BFA from Mount Allison University and has worked at Sackville’s Owens Art Gallery. Her combination of education and experience working across a range of artistic disciplines made her an ideal candidate for running an arts organization that is both progessive and visionary.
“My thoughts are always artist-centric,” said Blankert. “Whatever I can facilitate for the artists, that’s the end game for me. I don’t care what kind of discipline you have as an artist – if you want the space or want my help, I’m here. From painters to zine makers and to grassroots initiatives, I want it all and I want to be able to facilitate makings for an artist and paying artists because what they’re doing is work.”
Blankert has been settling into her new role since the start of the year. She’s inherited a few projects that were already in play when she was hired and is also heavily involved in developing new initiatives together with the board and members of the organization.
“We are just finishing up a publication for LAND/MARK which was a residency and dialogue series featuring Indigenous artists and writers working to address settler-colonial histories,” she said. “It started a couple years ago with [past director] KC Wilcox. That’s really exciting. Scarlett McAllister from Rabbittown Press is doing the publication in collaboration with artist Tara Francis. There is also going to be a dedicated website to the project. It’s going to be great and I’m really excited about it.”
Blankert is also involved in the delivery of a new project called Connexion Exchange. Announced last month, the project is a mentorship initiative pairing together emerging and established artists to share knowledge and experience and create a new work of art.
“I’m really excited about it because it involves an incredible amount of artists that we were able to pay,” she said. “There are sixteen artists involved – eight mentees and eight mentors – and the mentees are all from New Brunswick. They will work for three months with a mentor to create a work that will become part of an exhibit later in the year. There will also be joint artist talks as well.”
A passionate zine maker, Blankert also hopes to establish the city’s first zine library, working in collaboration with groups like Halifax-based Radstorm and the Anchor Archive zine library.
“I l love zines because they are a link to artists, activists, musicians, illustrators, wordsmiths and DIYers that you wouldn’t see otherwise,” she said. “Thoughts and ideas are shared through the simplest of processes but can be as straightforward or elaborate as the author wants them to be. When I started collecting and reading zines I was a teenager and it opened up my world to, LGBTQIA+, civil rights, eco-farming, alternative music scenes, feminism, and self-published comics.
“With my art career, my thoughts come out as zines first and then I begin manifesting sculptural elements out of the ideas that formulate in zines. Before I started working at Connexion I did a zine making workshop during Flourish Fest with Al Cusack. They are such a hard working zine maker that wants to reach community members and foster their creativity and ideas through zines. So I thought, ‘imagine if I filled shelves with zines from all the zine makers in New Brunswick?’ I think that would be really exciting.
“I don’t want to just be doing organizing and administration work in the office,” said Blankert. “I have a lot of ideas.”
To learn more about Connexion Artist Run Centre and become a member, visit them online at connexionarc.org