Arts centre study gets the go-ahead

“Anybody willing to step up to plate more than welcome”



Iqaluit city hall is taking steps to make an arts and cultural centre fit for a queen.

Terry Ma, Iqaluit’s economic development officer, announced last week that consultants were proceeding with a study on building a place for local artists to work, perform and display their wares.

Ma said the need for a formal performance hall is clear, considering Iqaluit often hosts high-profile guests, such as Queen Elizabeth II, and other heads of state.

However, Ma cautioned that the study won’t guarantee Iqaluit will have an arts centre soon. Consultants from Lord Cultural Resources Planning and Management will report on what artists want, and where the centre might be located, but the project doesn’t have funding to go further.

“The city may not have the capacity itself to run [the centre],” Ma said in an interview. “Anybody willing to step up toward the plate would be more than welcome.”

Although the centre remains in the dream category, arts enthusiasts have a list of suggestions for the final outcome.

Beth Beattie, executive director for the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association, envisioned a “living, breathing … workplace” that would attract tourists and artists alike.

Without a large centre devoted to arts and culture, Iqaluit lacks a venue made for concerts, has no affordable space for budding artists to rent and showcase their work, and offers few facilities for arts education.

Beattie, whose office used to be in the Arctic College arts and crafts centre where jewelry students currently hone their craft, said Iqaluit artists have to make do with what they have.

“A gym is a gym, it’s meant for basketball,” she said. “It’s not really made for concerts.” Performances are often held in the high school, and last year, the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association held a major show in the gym of the old Arctic College residence.

So, Beattie said, the centre needs to have a work area for drawing and carving, a gallery, a theatre and stage.

Beyond helping artists, building an arts centre in Iqaluit would also boost the amount of entertainment available in the city, Beattie said. The space could also be used for summer camps, she added.

Considering the number of artists and art-lovers in Iqaluit, Beattie questioned why money could be found for construction projects like the new courthouse and RCMP detachment, but not the arts centre.

“It would be the heart of the community,” she said, adding that if people had more arts and culture available, they would be less prone to criminal activity.

In drafting their report, city consultants need to remember Iqaluit’s small population will create challenges that other capital cities don’t face, warns Lorraine Thomas, head of the Iqaluit Music Society.

She points to how even large cities in Canada struggle to sell enough tickets to break even at arts centres.

While supportive of the project, Thomas worries the financial pressures of running a large centre could mean concert tickets would be expensive.

On that note, Thomas said the society wouldn’t use the centre if it was forced to charge admission.

“It has to be sustainable,” Thomas said of the centre. “We don’t want a building that’s so expensive to maintain, we can’t use it.”

The study, funded with $80,000 from the Iqaluit Rotary Club, Heritage Canada and the City of Iqaluit, will mainly be done with selected people working in the arts field. But Ma invited members of the public to provide input on the study, by calling 979-5611.

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