Art on the move

Owner hopes new location will boost business and cultural event possibilities



The Arctic Express warehouse on Federal Road has acquired a whole new sense of style. Walking into the building across from the Baffin Correctional Centre, one first sees the Arctic Express dispatch desk with light streaming on it from the windows.

Behind the desk, the wall ends part-way to the ceiling and the space is filled with hanging plants. On either side of the desk, a small flight of stairs climbs to a landing, which has been transformed from office space to the new home of North Country Arts.

Corey Stewart, the owner of the store, which had been located for about six years in the lower base area of Iqaluit, also owns Arctic Express and says the time had come for him to make some important business decisions. Even though the old location was just off Ring Road, a major thoroughfare in the city, Stewart says people just didn’t know where they were.

“It’s amazing,” he says. “People who lived here all their life didn’t even know we carried Inuit art.” Today Stewart stands amongst glass shelves filled with carvings, glass cases displaying jewelry and wall shelves holding small prints and T-shirts.

“With all the artists in Iqaluit promoting themselves on the streets and in the restaurants, it’s not feasible just to have an art gallery,” Stewart explains, as one of his dogs appears for a scratch on its head. People who are succeeding at selling Inuit art in their stores also offer numerous other products.

While the location may seem out of the way, almost near the end of a road that leads away from the downtown core, Stewart says that with the right advertising and promotion, he’s confident the new store will survive.

“I’ve done better sales in the last day and a half here than we did all last month at the other place,” he admits. As he speaks, the door opens and Eva Sowdluapik ascends the stairs, looking at the showcases and admiring the height of the ceiling.

Sowdluapik, a well-known throat-singer and performer, will be managing the new location and has ideas that excite Stewart.

“We’d like to have shows, where one night a month we’ll invite people and bring an artist in from Iqaluit, Cape Dorset, or one of the communities,” Stewart explains. The shows will correspond with workshops they are planning to hold in the back of the store, where carvers will work and demonstrate their craft.

Sowdluapik says she’d like to have different themes for every month depending on what artist is being featured.

“For example, there’s a lot of pieces here on transformation and there’s a lot of different artists working on transformations,” she says. “I would like to see the philosophy of these transformation pieces recognized, like Inuit spirituality. I want to start making people think that the pieces represent something bigger than what you can actually hold. It’s not just an object for me, it’s more of a spiritual thing.”

Having the space become more of a cultural area is another priority for Sowdluapik, who plans to incorporate throat-singing, storytelling and drum dancing into openings held at the store. She wants to show people that art, be it carvings, fibre art or prints is more than simply something created by a person with the intent to sell it.

“I want to get people thinking about what is Inuit, why was this created? How was it created?” she says. “Because a lot of the songs you hear today, they’re stories and these pieces are also stories. If you could listen to the artist tell the description of the piece then people have a better understanding and a bigger awareness of art philosophy.”

The store’s official grand opening will be announced sometime in the several weeks, Stewart says, promising the space will look even more different at that time.

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