Both a retreat for artists, writers and curators, and an active exhibition space, the St. Norbert Arts Centre (SNAC), directed by Louise W. May, is located in the former Trappist Monastery in St. Norbert, Manitoba, Canada, a few minutes outside Winnipeg. After a long and diverse history as monastic ruins and a guest house, the St. Norbert Arts Centre was born following a successful bid to designate the land and guest house as a heritage site. In 1991, L’Hôtellerie St. Norbert Guest House was incorporated and later became the St. Norbert Arts and Cultural Centre. In 1995, SNAC began work on the site to transform it into the space it is now.
Host to a diverse selection of projects ranging from outdoor theatre presentations to debates about new media, the centre recently gained attention for its controversial 1999 exhibition by artist Diana Thorneycroft called Monstrance.
Because of Thorneycroft’s use of rotting rabbit carcasses in the exhibition, journalists, religious groups, animal rights activists and the general public loudly protested, revolting against the artist's effrontery.
SNAC is reputed for provoking and supporting marginal discourse, frequently hosting residencies for Aboriginal artists and offering a space for feminist workshops such as The Arch in Patriarch
(April 24 to May 3, 1996), which delved into architecture and feminism. In addition, because of its unique, historical location, the centre has presented some challenging site-specific artworks such as Divining for Lost Sound/Cranking out Paradigms
(1997), two site-specific sound installations by Peter Courtemanche, Lori Weidenhammer and Ken Gregory, and Tibetan Sacred Art in the Ruins
(2000), a two-week festival in which 30 Tibetan artists transformed St. Norbert's Trappist Monastery into a Tibetan Buddhist temple.
SNAC has shown a commitment to investigating and supporting new media art and artists. In 1999, it organized Multiple and Mutable Subject,
a conference on the postmodern body and the Internet that welcomed theorists and artists such as Allucquère Rosanne Stone, Dot Tuer, Mark Poster and Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskew. Besides presenting conferences and artworks in exhibitions, SNAC hosts several unique Web artworks produced during residencies in St. Norbert as well as works that would not otherwise have a home on the Internet. Such projects include Spider Language,
a "First Nations contemporary art web" (1)
by Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskew, and Butterfly Garden
(1998) by Mike MacDonald and Michael Zajak.
SNAC is continuing its commitment to new artistic practices in an endeavour undertaken with artist Mike MacDonald. The centre and MacDonald teamed up for a residency project called Ten Little Indians.
This residency was partly funded by the Daniel Langlois Foundation.