Big donation will ensure Annie Pootoogook honoured in new Nunavut studio

Late artist’s name will grace artists’ entranceway at Cape Dorset’s new Kenojuak cente


The new Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop is currently under construction in Cape Dorset, slated for a spring 2018 grand opening. (FILE PHOTO)

The new Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop is currently under construction in Cape Dorset, slated for a spring 2018 grand opening. (FILE PHOTO)

An artist's rendering of what the new Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop will look like when it's completed. (FILE PHOTO)

An artist’s rendering of what the new Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop will look like when it’s completed. (FILE PHOTO)

Artists who go into the soon-to-be-built Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop in Cape Dorset to use the facilities, or just to have a look around, will be greeted by the spirit and legacy of one of Cape Dorset’s most famous contemporary artists: Annie Pootoogook.

The Donald R. Sobey Family Foundation announced this week it will donate $100,000 toward construction of the new $11-million facility which is expected to open in spring 2018, replacing the old print shop where Pootoogook, and scores of other local artists, helped to make Inuit art known around the world.

The donation is special because Pootoogook’s death touched Donald Sobey personally, said Bernard Doucet, secretary of the foundation.

Donald Sobey, a Maritime philanthropist and art lover whose family has launched numerous charitable foundations, was chair of the Sobey Art Foundation in 2006, the year Pootoogook won the art foundation’s annual $50,000 award—Canada’s most prestigious prize for young artists.

“The Sobeys’ intentions is that she will be memorialized in a place where she committed so much time to her practice,” said Doucet, Dec. 15

“The intention would be if, in some way, Annie’s memory can inspire young artists, we would be quite pleased to see that.”

Doucet said Pootoogook’s name will grace the entranceway of the artists’ studio in the new centre.

Pootoogook, a prolific contemporary Cape Dorset-born artist, was found dead Sept. 19 on the banks of the Rideau River. She was 46. Police still don’t know what happened to her and the investigation is on-going.

The young trailblazer whose final years were fraught with addiction and intermittent homelessness in Ottawa, was lauded internationally for her iconic and sometimes stark glimpses into modern Inuit life.

Her premature death caused widespread grief among family and community members in Cape Dorset and Ottawa but also among artists, art lovers and gallery curators across the country and beyond.

“Everyone was, of course, deeply touched and affected by her untimely and very tragic passing—and particularly Donald and his son Rob who had known her through the art award many years ago,” Doucet said.

“It was the right thing to do to memorialize Annie.”

The new Kenojuak centre and print shop will replace the old West Baffin Eskimo Co-op and Kinngait Studios, built in 1959, whose cramped rooms produced some of the art world’s biggest names including Ashevak Kenojuak, after whom the new centre is named.

The new centre will function as a visitor’s centre, community gathering place, art exhibition and archival space as well as a new studio for local and visiting artists.

The 10,440-square-foot building will be owned by the Hamlet of Cape Dorset and managed by the West Baffin Eskimo Co-op which will enjoy a long-term lease in the new space.

“Our community is very grateful to the Donald R. Sobey Family Foundation for their generous gift and their tribute to Annie,” said Padlaya Qiatsuk, mayor of Cape Dorset, in a Dec. 14 news release.

“Annie was one of our greatest artists and one of Canada’s most significant creators. Her lifetime of achievement will continue to inspire our artists and our whole community today, and those generations to come, who will learn and create in the new Kenojuak Centre.”

Of the $11 million the centre will cost to build, $8 million will come from the public sector—Inuit, territorial and federal governments—and an additional $3 million will flow from the private sector including from corporations, foundations and individuals.

So far, $10.4 million has been raised, much of it thanks to the enthusiast pursuit of Paul Desmarais III, chair of the fundraising campaign.

Desmarais, vice-president of the Power Corp. of Canada, who considers himself a “passionate collector of traditional and contemporary Inuit art,” has been tirelessly soliciting money from corporations and individuals in an attempt to make the new centre a reality.

Doucet said the Sobey family had been considering a donation to the new centre and when Pootoogook died, the decision was easily made.

“It’s important that donors across the country realize the national cultural significance of this centre,” Doucet said.

“It’s a critically important thing for donors in the cultural space to all think about the pan-national and international significance that the Cape Dorset print shop has had on our visual arts history.”

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