Nunavut artists organize to greet giant Crystal Serenity vessel
Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association aims for big sales Aug. 29 in Cambridge Bay
CAMBRIDGE BAY — When Crystal Serenity passengers arrive today on zodiacs from their cruise vessel to head into Cambridge Bay, members of the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association plan to keep their sale tables heaped with carvings, drawings, wall-hangings and other Inuit-made arts and crafts.
However, no one knows what the ship’s 900-plus passengers will want to buy. And, despite assurances from the Crystal Cruises company about the ship’s economic benefits for local communities, there’s no certainty that the group will spend lots of money: The average cruise ship tourist only spends $75 said Rowena House, NACA’s executive director.
“Most are looking for lower-priced stuff,” House said. That’s in spite of $22,000 US and upwards that passengers paid for berths on the plush 32-day journey which, from Cambridge Bay, heads through the Northwest Passage to Pond Inlet, Greenland and, finally, to New York City on the largest ship yet to pass through the High Arctic islands.
Included in the uncertainty about what the ship’s many passengers will spend — and NACA plans to have credit card payment machines in place to help them pay — there’s also uncertainty about inventory: Will NACA even have enough products available for Crystal Serenity passengers?
Some artists arrived in Cambridge Bay from communities across Nunavut with little to sell — one because he said he lacked paper for his drawings, and another woman because she’s homeless and could only work on wall-hangings when able to find material and a space to sew.
Others arrived mainly with works in sealskin, walrus ivory or whale baleen although United States visitors — about 85 per cent of the Crystal Serenity’s passengers — can’t take those marine mammal products home.
These kinds of issues affecting Nunavut artists are among those which NACA wants to tackle as it aims to promote Nunavut’s arts and crafts through better communications, advocacy and marketing.
Part of NACA’s efforts during its five-day annual event in Cambridge Bay, timed to co-coincide with the Crystal Serenity’s Aug. 29 arrival, involved introducing the territory’s artists to each other, to visiting artists from Alaska and Labrador, and to gallery owners.
Workhops during the festival featured qiviut fur production, gourd painting and making goose-feet baskets as a way of introducing some new skills.
For two days, a group learned how to cull the soft qiviut under hair-off muskox skins and then spin it into yarn. Artist Elizabeth Hadlari of Cambridge Bay said she’d used pressed muskox fur in her jewelry, but she may now try incorporate some knitted muskox fur into her creations.
Another group, which included Monica Ell-Kanayuk, Nunavut’s minister of economic development and transportation, learned how to bead.
Elizabeth Gordon taught another group on Aug. 27, when a local teenager and participants from Iqaluit, Gjoa Haven, Barrow, Alaska, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador, and southern locations learned how to make art out of gourds.
Gordon, born and raised in Iqaluit, is related to members of the Gordon family throughout the eastern Arctic. For her gourd creations, Gordon, who now lives in Ontario, has won awards and exhibited at Iqaluit’s Nunatta Sunakuutaangit Museum.
The small gourds that Gordon brought with her to Cambridge Bay were transformed into original ornaments, as she urged everyone to find “a little mystery” in their designs which produced globes with the best colours of nature.
“It’s not just a far-fetched idea to bring gourds and painting to the Arctic,” she said. “It can be adapted.”
The NACA members also heard from gallery staff who talked about the changing art market and their new efforts aimed at bringing Inuit art to national and international audiences.
NACA board member Debbie Johns, the vice president of art marketing at Canadian Art Producers and Arctic Co-operatives Ltd., works with galleries and other buyers to promote, support and assist Inuit art and artists. And she described how CAP and ACL have taken over the wholesale carving stock of the North West Co. — more than 25,000 pieces. The North West Co. no longer buys or sells Inuit arts and crafts.
For its work, NACA now has a $1.4 million annual budget, with a core funding amount that has been increased from $150,000 to $400,000 by the Government of Nunavut. The core funding amount is supplemented by special project funds.
Among NACA’s projects: the 2017 NACA arts festival to take place July 1 to July 9, between Canada’s 150th birthday and Nunavut Day celebrations that year.
Next month, at the Canadian Embassy in London, NACA will participate in the opening of an exhibit, Floe Edge: Contemporary Art and Collaborations from Nunavut, which includes sealskin fashion along with video and photographs by Clyde River photographer, and Nunatsiaq News contributor, Niore Iqalukjuaq.
Also in September, NACA is planning a display of Nunavut art at a reception for Nunavut films at the Toronto International Festival.