Travis Mercredi

Virtually Inspired: Travis Mercredi Creates Community Art Capacity and Digital Media

“You don't have to be the best, it’s just got to be what you want to do,” Travis Mercredi says. He is Metis from Yellowknife and Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories and growing up his family was really into video games, sci-fi films and computers. He didn’t finish high school, never feeling like he fit in and not really enjoying school. Without mentors who shared his interest in creative arts, he felt pressure to go into mining. Eventually, he found his way to his dream career. 

“Video games are the richest media you can get in a small place, especially when you have bandwidth issues.”

He studied sound design in his mid-twenties and interactive arts in his mid-thirties. Game design inspired him with all the rich content Blu-ray technology could contain when high-speed internet wasn’t available. As he studied, he struggled with not feeling ready. Eventually, he realized everyone was coming in fresh just like him and to stop comparing himself to others. Mercredi is moving into virtual reality and spatial audio, now writing and directing a VR piece for the National Film Board. 

“Don't worry about what anyone else's process is going to be, you're going to have an arc that's going to be your own, especially coming from an Indigenous community.”

Not just making art himself, Mercredi is also helping other artists, managing the territorial arts funding program. When he first got started, he asked himself, “How do I support those channels of growth? Within the whole territory, how do we get people funded to do their art projects and go through that cathartic process?”

Mercredi knows firsthand how transformative arts funding can be, after applying for and receiving grants himself.  “A couple of art projects really change you as a person if you really are free to say what you want, to express what you want. It's very key. I think it's how we get to that future that we want to,” he dreams aloud. 

Thinking about the barriers he overcame, Mercredi shares, “You’re always fighting with cynicism…You have to exert effort, personal effort, spiritual efforts, to stay committed to that work, because it feels uncomfortable.” Staying positive and controlling his fear has helped him overcome big challenges. “You have to ride those things out and know that's where you're supposed to be and those challenges mean that you're in the process of learning,” he continues. 

“Don't be too precious about those things that inspire you. Because it might be what you're going to do is not going to look like that.” 

Along the way, he’s learned how helpful collaboration can be. “Everyone is asked to get into that state of discomfort, knowing that's part of it…. You have to be ready to trust that you're supposed to be there, even though it's uncomfortable, and you feel stupid, like you don't know enough to be there. But that's why you're there. You're learning. You're going through it,” Mercredi offers. Bad gigs and projects that don’t go well are rites of passage, according to Mercredi, and those experiences become the ‘war stories’ you can share with others down the road. 

While there are fun and glamorous projects, he knows sometimes the work is breaking trails with fewer resources in smaller communities. He remembers feeling like, “I wish somebody broke the trail already. But someone's gotta... It's got to feel a little bit like the wilderness for a while before we get comfortable with it. It's something new. It's not established.” Working online, he’s able to do creative work and remain in his community.   

It’s a far cry from what was available when he was getting his start. Someone in Yellowknife had a studio and he had the chance to spend some work experience hours with them in high school. He played music with different bands and recorded music he created with songwriters. After volunteering with the film co-op he began meeting other people and working together to make things happen in a small town that could feel boring at times.

Illustration by Shaikara David
“Find others and support them, and they'll support you back. That's the key thing.” 

The ecosystem of creative people working together became the local independent film scene. Looking back on their accomplishment, he feels a sense of pride and the joy of great memories when they were bootstrapping projects with no budget, and working with a team to create things that were out of the norm. 

Looking to the future, Mercredi wants to support the growth of the art sector in his territory and is excited by the possibilities in game design and virtual reality.  Using virtual reality to visit places virtually could broaden the horizons of those living in smaller communities in the same way a whole new world of access to music opened up with the arrival of the internet. 

“Technology…levels the playing field for us. We can still stay here and be a part of our home communities in a way that we want to be, be influenced by being here and take responsibility for the place,” he observes. Mercredi has noticed how people who move away sometimes struggle with coming back because they don’t want to leave behind the careers that excite them in big, urban centres. Being able to continue to access those opportunities from the North has made a big difference he’s seen in the local film industry.

Having choices is something Mercredi sees as important. “We don't need more people living lives that they don't want to live, being people they don't want to be. I've grown up seeing that stuff around. Those people often didn't have a choice and had things going against them. I think that if you have the capacity, the want and see that opening to chase that, that's the kind of people we want in our communities. We want people that were inspired, that did what they wanted to do and brought that back to their community or went and did it anyways, whatever it is,” he offers. 

Not letting circumstances decide for you and choosing your future with intention are values Mercredi holds dear.  He believes in being adaptable to weather the storms to end up where you want to be. He encourages youth, saying “People want to support you” and encouraging them to look for microgrants to bring their next project to life.  

Travis Mercredi knows that you don't have to be the best, it’s just got to be what you want to do. He’s doing his best to create innovative art projects and help others do the same, leveraging the power of the internet to reach the world without having to leave his home community. Chasing dreams and working together, he’s found a circle of creative people building a brighter future together, in relationships face to face and in virtual reality. 

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
  • Province/Territory
    Northwest Territories
  • Date
    November 29, 2023
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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