Painting a Brighter Future: Ruby Bruce’s Makes Her Mark Through Art Education
“At some point, I realized that my community lacked artistic resources and art education, also that art and culture are vitally important for our communities, so that became something I was really interested in providing for the community.” explains Ruby Bruce, whose spirit name is Southern Wind, is a Red River Métis Anishinaabe woman from the Métis community of St. Laurent, Manitoba, on Treaty One territory. She is a mother of one who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a visual artist, art educator, and student.
Bruce has been a professional artist for ten years, creating woodland paintings, digital artwork, graphic designs, logos, and designing and facilitating workshops as an art educator. As a child, she painted a mural at the Manitoba Métis Federation in Winnipeg and created the mascot logo for her school. By the time she was 17 she was facilitating youth art workshops and creating her first solo mural project.
The art that she’s made has been well received and has reached many new audiences outside her hometown. “I find inspiration from Mother Earth and the prairies, the flowers, my home community, my kin, my culture, my traditions, the visual aspects of all these things, and also how they make me feel,” she muses.
Her art piece, Fireweed, was featured in a digital mural exhibit in 2020 and over 25 bike locks in Yorkton, Saskatchewan include a design she created. Her poetry and digital illustration was featured in Owning Ourselves Zine, a collaboration by The Mamawi Project and Red River Echoes and her work also appeared on Michif Country, an APTN show which debuted in the fall of 2022.
Bruce isn’t just an artist, she’s also an art advocate. “I aim to inspire, empower and heal Indigenous people of all ages in my community and beyond,”she explains. She is a member of the Community Art Space Committee of St. Laurent and has worked with TakingItGlobal on lesson plans, received a Rising Youth grant and had her art included in Fireside Chat projects.
As she developed her craft, she was mentored by artist and actor Jules Desjarlais and she is hoping to further her arts education in the future. Outside the art realm, she has a degree in educational assistance and certificate in community development and entrepreneurship. Much of her art practice is self taught and she’s managed to create despite many obstacles.
From intergenerational trauma, poverty, and chronic pancreatitis Bruce has had many challenges along the way. She’s sought healing in ceremony, smudging and prayer. “I have fought my whole life to get out of poverty, and I'm still fighting. Sometimes I get down on myself but I always remind myself, I'm young, I'm smart, I'm accomplished and my ancestors are so proud of me. The work I do is important, and it's needed. I also remind myself that I have a daughter who looks up to me, and I want her to have the best possible life and positive influence in her life,” Bruce reflects.
Bruce wasn’t always confident she would make it as an artist. “I had lots of dreams and aspirations. But in the beginning, I didn't think I could become an artist [and worried] I would never be recognized, I wouldn't be able to get out of my town and make something of myself,” she recalls. Those feelings motivated her to bring back the training and support aspiring artists in her community who needed guidance like she did when she first started.
Her chronic illness often left her feeling discouraged and she worried about how she would make it as a disabled artist living in a rural community. Bruce’s message to other artists with disabilities is, “You can become whatever you want to be, you just have to thrive, you just have to try, you just have to put yourself out there. You're going to make it and you're going to be noticed. What you want to do is important to our community.”When her family had internet access, she would apply to art contests and when she would win, it would encourage her to keep going.
Her advice for youth considering leaving their home community for work or school is encouraging. “Your community is what you make it if you leave. I hope you're going with your community in your mind and your heart. I hope that maybe you're planning on returning with new knowledge and experience to help build your community,” she shares.
Bruce knows what she’s talking about, because when she first came to Winnipeg she experienced culture shock and isolation. She had to learn new skills like navigating transit and was out of her comfort zone in university. To manage her feelings, she went on walks, spending time in nature breathing in the fresh air at local parks and by staying connected to family. “Creator was there with me, my ancestors were there with me and they were watching over me and that made me feel a lot better,” she recalls.
She also has advice for aspiring artists. “Once you put yourself out there as an artist, you will get traction and your work will be recognized. Indigenous artists are needed and we're very important members of our communities and the world. Just go out there and do it and everything will fall into place. That's how it happened for me,” she encourages.
Ruby Bruce is raising a daughter and lifting up artists in her community, with workshops and arts education. Knowing how important arts and culture are to her people, and seeing the gap in what’s available, she’s creating art and opportunities for new artists. In helping paint a brighter future for the artists of tomorrow, she’s making her mark on the world and on canvas in a way she never dreamed could be possible.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.