Gearing up for the Great Northern Arts Festival

The theme of this year’s festival is “Clothed in Culture”


A total of 40 new and returning artists from around the nation will be featured in the 31st annual Great Northern Arts Festival (GNAF) that is scheduled to take place from July 12 to 21, with this year’s theme being “Clothed in Culture”.

“It’s not only the clothing and what we make, but it’s also who we are and what we are,” said Mary Ann Villeneuve, the executive director for the GNAF. “How we’ve clung to these things regardless of the past, and now it’s coming back even more. We’re doing more.”

The artists come from a variety of backgrounds, which includes beading, painting, carving, glass making and more. The majority of featured artists come from communities strewn across the NWT, while some originate from regions in Nunavut, the Yukon and other provinces.

“We have a lot of artists who have got their start at the festival and have become famous worldwide. We like that, that’s what we do,” said Villeneuve. “We want new and emerging artists to attend. We want artists that have many years of experience, and new artists who do have experience but have never been to the North or to the arts festival. This is an opportunity for them.”

Mary Ann Villeneuve, the executive director for the Great Northern Arts Festival, poses with this year’s promotional poster. Aaron Hemens/NNSL photo
Mary Ann Villeneuve, the executive director for the Great Northern Arts Festival, poses with this year’s promotional poster. Aaron Hemens/NNSL photo

Unlike previous years, attendants will not be required to pay a $5 admission fee. Instead, they are invited to donate a sum of money upon admission. 

“We want to open the doors for everybody. It stops a lot of people from coming that can’t afford $5 every day,” said Villeneuve. “We’ll see a lot more people attending and a lot more local people.”

Each day during the 10-day festival, attendees will have the opportunity to view and purchase the artists’ work in the gallery space, which is located in the curling rink at the Midnight Sun Complex. Every artist will have had the chance to host up to five workshops throughout the festival, which is being hosted in the complex’s Roy Sugloo Ipana Arena.

“There’s different things for people to come and enjoy. Come in and see the artists creating their work, but also attend the workshops because then you’ll learn something and you’ll take something home,” said Villeneuve. “You’ll have a better appreciation for what the artist does as well.”

Every evening will conclude with a performance, which includes Northern Games demonstrations and live music from a variety of regional bands.

“The hockey arena is where the performances take place, where artists will be set up with all of their work stations along the perimeter of the arena,” said Villenueve. “The stage is usually in the gallery, but I’ve moved it to the workshop area. I think it’s going to be nice there because it will be great for evening performances. It will be a nice ambiance in there.”

A Special Projects schedule is also being offered, which will feature sessions from artists and organizations such as Ron English, the NWT Arts Strategy, the Inuit Art Foundation, the Arts, Crafts & Technology Micro-manufacturing Centre and more

“They’ll be downstairs in the workshop area throughout the week and they’ll be able to do demonstrations, and you’ll be able to find out more about the program,” said Villenueve.

The festival will conclude with a fashion show that is being coordinated by local Inuvialuit artist Erica Lugt.

“She’ll be doing an awesome show for everybody. They like to see the clothing, jewelry, everything put together on a model,” said Villenueve.

Villenueve praised Inuvik for being so supportive of the festival.

“We do have a lot of people who do care about the festival. If they didn’t care, it wouldn’t happen every year for this long,” she said.

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Aaron Hemens served as the editor of the Inuvik Drum from January to August 2019. He's responsible for reporting on everything Inuvik, from covering community gatherings and sporting events, to writing the weekly columns. He's a dedicated photographer who loves getting to know the town through the community members that he meets. He's originally from Ottawa, Ont., where he graduated from Carleton University's journalism program in 2018. He can be contacted at 867-777-4545 or at You can check out his photos on his Instagram account: @aaron.hemens.