Artists invade Rankin Inlet

Nunavut Arts Festival promotes business, culture, and the business of culture



About 60 artists from across Nunavut gather in Rankin Inlet today for the fifth annual Nunavut Arts Festival – a full week of exhibits, workshops, seminars and socializing.

“The idea is to break down the distance and the lack of communications between artists, galleries and consumers,” says Beth Beattie, executive director of the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association in Iqaluit.

Drawings, paintings, carvings, sculptures and crafts from over 100 artists will be on display in the community hall, and artists from almost all of Nunavut’s communities will fill the college residence, and some local homes.

Over the next week, the artists will take digital photographs of their work, write personal biographies and create pamphlets to send over the Internet to prospective buyers, or to the Canada Council for the Arts to apply for grants.

Beattie wants to help Nunavut artists “think the way artists do in the South,” by keeping a record of their work, and building a portfolio that they can show to buyers.

In another seminar, the executive director of Canadian Artists Representatives will talk about copyright issues. Representatives from the federal Cultural Human Resource Council will talk to artists about exporting art internationally.

The Nunavut Tourism Association will lead a seminar on “understanding the client,” and the Canada Council will have someone to speak about grants for aboriginal artists.

International art buyers are traveling from Boston and Switzerland to take part in the buying part of the show.

“Not every gallery is going to go into 25 communities – it’s just too expensive – so this is their one opportunity to come into one place and meet 70 or 80 artists,” says Nicki Dewar of Winnipeg, a cultural trade commissioner with Canadian Heritage.

This year, Dewar has organized presentations from curators at three Boston galleries specializing in Inuit art, followed by one-on-one meetings between buyers and sellers.

The meetings are a warmup for a larger Nunavut trade mission to Boston later this year, which for artists, will centre on an exhibition of Inuit art at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts that runs for two months, starting December 2.

The three commercial galleries will exhibit their new Nunavut wares at the Boston International Art Fair in November, where Canadian Heritage will also host a reception for “hundreds of potential buyers and collectors of art,” Dewar says.

A buyer from the Peabody Museum gift shop will also be in Rankin, hoping to stock the shelves before the display gets underway.

Artist Jim Shirley, owner of the Matchbox Gallery in Rankin Inlet, says the event gives artists a chance to make “very useful connections.”

“All of the art in Nunavut takes place in very remote communities,” Shirley says. “This gives artists an opportunity to see what other people are doing and to interact with them.”

Shirley has operated his gallery and studio for years, and has seen the effect on local artists who get the opportunity to see work from Iqaluit, for example. He believes that interaction is essential to the creative development of artists.

This year, three artists from as far away as Whitehorse and Yellowknife will join the festival to show their work. “You have to know what other people are doing in the business you do,” Shirley says.

The group of artists associated with the Matchbox Gallery was a success story at last year’s festival in Iqaluit, where Shirley met a gallery owner from Switzerland. The artists now have 37 ceramic pieces on display in the Cerny Gallery in Bern.

“Because we were able to send work digitally in 10 seconds, we were able to organize the show. How do you do that if you live in Whale Cove? You just need a digital camera, which is a very radical thing.”

But business isn’t the only reason why artists need to meet one another at events like this one.

“Art is a very frustrating and difficult business,” Shirley says, “and a humiliating business, at times. Here you have an opportunity to be recognized and appreciated.”

The Nunavut Arts Festival costs anywhere from $250,000 to $270,000 each year, and rotates between the three regional centres: Iqaluit, Cambridge Bay and Rankin Inlet.

NACA advertises the event in all communities each year, inviting applications from artists, which are reviewed by the board.

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