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JKB: One of the things I learned was that if you have a dream, it is possible to achieve it. I wasn’t just a dreamer; I worked seven days a week and was very realistic about what I wanted to do.When I decided I wanted to start producing concerts, I called up a well-known producer and said tell me everything that I have to do to be a good producer.
MM: What’s the biggest lesson you have learned over your philanthropic career?
I thought, we don’t really talk on a national scale; we don’t have a national data bank; or a national moccasin telegraph that’s serious; and mainstream Canadians think very poorly of us. You either spend so many dollars or hours on Aboriginal programming- If you don’t do that- we’re not going to renew your license. You give me the airwaves, editing services, animation, and an office. In the first couple of years we had an audience reach of two million viewers. A year later I was on the board of directors for eleven years.
They don’t know that we are capable and talented people – in sports, arts, business, health, and medicine. I went in two to three days later and said – I want to produce the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards. Culturally I think that advanced us; unified us; it brought new awareness to mainstream Canada.
I produced those kinds of concerts across the country so that corporations in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Edmonton would start supporting what I was doing.
They cost me almost and I would come away with 0,000 in profit.
I just started talking to everybody who was an expert. Most people will not work that hard to achieve their dream. That’s what it’s all about, hard work, taking a risk and not being afraid.
I didn’t have the money to hire others to do it for me and I didn’t want them to do it for me. I learned through hard work and street smarts how to put on these big events. MM: How do the Indspire Awards balance corporate responsibility while also accepting corporate donations from big extraction companies? When each First Nation gets a check every year, it comes from our tax revenue based either directly from the corporations or the individuals who work for those extraction companies. In our country, everybody uses metal of every kind.I went to university of course, but there’s nothing that replaces the experience of going to NYC where some of the most talented people were.It taught me what the standards were in performing arts.In an interview with MUSKRAT Magazine earlier this year, John Kim Bell spoke candidly about his views on corporate responsibility, his experiences with founding Canadian Native Arts Foundation (CNAF) – Indspire’s predecessor, and where he views the scene is today for Indigenous artists.MM: What was it like growing up in Ohio as an Aboriginal person and what is your connection to Canada and the arts? When my parents divorced, my mother, who was American, took us back home to raise us in Columbus, Ohio.Today, this work is done through the Indspire Awards, which awards thousands of dollars in scholarships to Indigenous students yearly.