Dawson Creek Art Gallery

Donna Kane: Peace Poet and Arts Advocate

By Haley Bassett, November 11th, 2021

Local writer, editor, poet and arts administrator Donna Kane is moving on to new horizons. She recently resigned as Executive Director of the Peace Liard Regional Arts Council, a role she held for seven years. After decades of community work in arts administration and organizing, Donna has divested herself of her commitments to focus on writing full-time.

Our region’s artists and communities owe Donna a great deal of gratitude for her hard work, as many iconic events and programs are due, in large part, to her efforts. To name only some highlights of her accomplishments: She was co-organizer of the Sweetwater 905 Arts Festival, a three-day event hosted outside of Rolla that featured literary arts, music, visual art, and film. Sweetwater 905 has been discontinued; however, a more permanent testament to her work is Written in Stone, a collaborative poetry project where lines of a renga (a Japanese style of poetry wherein the first three lines are composed by one person and the second two by another and so on) were engraved into stones along Dawson Creek’s walking trail.

In 2006, she collaborated with her partner, Wayne Sawchuk, on the Muskwa-Kechika Artist Camps, which have hosted such luminaries as Deryk Houston, Peter von Tiesenhausen, and Brian Jungen. In 2018, she launched Wild Words North, a literary festival that has featured some of Canada’s most renowned writers and thinkers. WWN’s roster has boasted Parliamentary Poet Laureate Louise Bernice Halfe–Sky Dancer, philosopher, essayist, and poet Jan Zwicky, as well as internationally bestselling author and advocate Jesse Thistle, to name a few.

Aside from being a tireless organizer, who has demonstrably enriched cultural and intellectual life in the Peace, Donna is an award-winning poet and writer. She has completed three books of poetry, as well as a memoir, Summer of the Horse. Her writings have been widely featured in several journals and anthologies. Her crowning achievement thus far is Orrery, a work of poetry inspired by the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, the first human-made object to exit our solar system. Orrery was nominated for the 2020 Governor General’s Award for Poetry, one of the most prestigious writing awards in Canada.

Donna’s creative talents have always shone through, as she has garnered several highly competitive scholarships over the course of her education, including the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship and the Governor General’s Collegiate Bronze Medal, in addition to grants and awards that are too numerous to name. However, despite her obvious talents, her creative endeavours often took a backseat to her community work, which she carried out for decades largely on a volunteer, or near-volunteer, basis. With so many projects on the go, Orrery took 17 years to complete.

Donna’s tireless work and sacrifices have undeniably changed life in the Peace for the better, and her generosity has not gone completely unnoticed. In 2020, she received an Honorary Associate of Arts Degree from Northern Lights College “in recognition for her passion towards the literary arts and her continuing ability to inspire others.” About her friend and colleague, Cree Elder Theresa Gladue testifies, “Anyone who knows Donna will tell you that she is genuinely all about connection and generosity,” adding, “Donna is an icon in our community and someone who is respected for her commitment to doing all that she could to assist all artists and the Peace Liard Regional Arts Council.” As I outlined in my previous article, Theresa has also recently moved on in her career, marking the end of an era in local arts administration. Both Donna and Theresa are from a long line of women innovators and community builders in the Peace Country that includes Sue Popesku, Ellen Corea, Edna McPhail, and Euphemia McNaught.

Donna is a remarkable example of the positive impact one person can have on a community. After all she has done to make life in the Peace more inclusive, creatively fulfilling and intellectually stimulating, this is a well-earned retirement.

Do you have an artistic endeavour you would like to promote? Is there a topic you would like me to discuss? I would love to hear from you! Please email me at programs@dcartgallery.ca.

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