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Arts community mourns deaths on Highway 6

The Sask. arts community loses four of its best

Flags at the U of R were also flown at half-mast on Feb. 12 in remembrance of the artists. / Brett Nielsen
Flags at the U of R were also flown at half-mast on Feb. 12 in remembrance of the artists. / Brett Nielsen

On Feb. 10, 2015, Saskatchewan’s and Alberta’s arts communities were devastated to learn of the passing of Michele Sereda, Narcisse Blood, Michael Green, and Lacy Morin-Desjarlais. The four artists had been active for many years in the arts communities in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and around the world. On that Tuesday, they were together, travelling to Piapot First Nation to conduct a yoga workshop and give a presentation when they collided with two other vehicles and passed away. Morley Hartenberger, driver of one of the other vehicles, also passed away. Two passengers from the third vehicle were injured.

The accident struck communities in Saskatchewan and Alberta hard. The four artists were actively involved in projects across Canada and around the world. They had worked through the years to foster close relationships with members of their communities, and their memories will be long remembered by those many people they called friends and family.

Narcisse Blood was an elder, teacher, historian, filmmaker, and more. He was an instrumental leader, teaching at the University of Lethbridge while he was serving as an elder for the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Alumni Chapter. Through such work, he helped build a partnership between the University of Lethbridge and the Red Crow Community College. He was also greatly involved in writing and filmmaking, creating work for the National Film Board.

Michael Green was a Calgary resident and was involved in the arts community there for decades. He co-founded One Yellow Rabbit Theatre Company and was curator of the annual multi-theatre festival High Performance Rodeo.

“To know that the National Arts Centre had their flags at half-mast with the loss of Michael this week tells us this is so much bigger than one individual; it’s our whole country and whole community,” Shelley Switzer of the Edmonton International Street Performance Festival told CBC News.

Flags at the University of Regina were also flown at half-mast on Feb. 12 in remembrance of the artists, particularly Sereda and Morin-Desjarlais, who were teachers at the university. The two women were dedicated to forging new connections in the community through art.

“Lacy and Michele were fantastic role models for our students and were dedicated to working with First Nations communities,” the University of Regina’s Dean of Fine Arts, Rae Staseson, said in the University’s Faculty of Fine Arts press release.

What Switzer said of Green is true of all four artists. Blood, Green, Morin-Desjarlais, and Sereda were friends, family members, teachers, and inspirers who brought life to the Canadian arts community. Their passings leave a large hole in the communities in which they lived and worked.

On Sunday, Feb. 22, a service was held at the Mackenzie Art Gallery to celebrate the life of Sereda. The atrium of the T.C. Douglas building was filled with friends and family of Sereda as speeches, performances, and story-sharing ran throughout the afternoon. It was extremely powerful to witness how strong a community can become because of one person. Sereda was an energetic, creative, and beautiful soul who made an impact on many, many lives. Stories were shared by long-time and close friends, family members, and on behalf of those who emailed their stories from across the oceans.

The ceremony was beautiful. Performance art — such as dance (Aboriginal, contemporary, and Ukrainian) and music — opened and closed the celebration and was a powerful presence throughout the afternoon.

It was inspiring to see hundreds of people sitting and standing when the chairs filled up to share in remembering Sereda. Her influence in the arts community in Saskatchewan, Canada, and the world was and will surely continue to be huge.

Mourning the loss of 4 valued artists. / Brett Nielsen
Mourning the loss of 4 valued artists. / Brett Nielsen

Sereda graduated from the University of Regina in 1990 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Theatre. Among many artistic pursuits, she was co-founder and Artistic Director of Curtain Razors, a theatre company in Regina. Her ties with the University of Regina remained strong throughout her career as she taught and performed at the University. She received the Theatre Department’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011 and the Mayor Arts and Business Award for Living the Arts in 2013.

Hearing the many speakers on Sunday honouring her life, accomplishments, and her great personality, one saw the spirit of a noble, loud, and fun artist. Sereda will be greatly missed in the artistic community.

As her niece, Jane Last, wrote in her memorial, “The idea that anything is possible—that dreams don’t need to stay in the fringes of our consciousness, but can indeed become reality is something that she lived every day.”

Morin-Desjarlais was also a Regina resident, and taught powwow dance at the University of Regina. A celebration of her life was held on Feb. 13 at Regina’s Eastview Community Centre. The University announced that the Conservatory of Performing Arts at the University of Regina has cancelled the remainder of Powwow classes this term.

“Michele and Lacy were two of our brightest stars in the local arts community and they will be immensely missed. Our most sincere condolences go out to their families,” Staseson said in the University’s Faculty of Fine Arts press release.

Both Sereda and Morin-Desjarlais were involved at the University of Regina, teaching and collaborating to bring students of every background into art and performance. The communities that they worked in and brought so much life to are making every effort to give back to the community some of the essence of the powerful life-force Morin-Desjarlais and Sereda brought to art in Saskatchewan. Such efforts are evident in the beautiful celebrations held for both women as well as in the efforts that will be continually made to keep the women’s legacies alive.

In Sereda’s memory, fundraising is underway to establish a scholarship or award at the University of Regina. Additionally, the Saskatchewan Arts Board is accepting donations for a memorial legacy in Sereda’s name. More information on both memorials is available through the respective organizations.

About laura billett

I grew up dancing and have never been able to stop. I have been addicted to reading and dreamed of writing for as long as I can remember and am always looking for new inspiration, adventures, and a good laugh.