Inuvik project wins $500,000 prize

The project will create an association of Northern Indigenous artists from communities within the Beaufort Delta Region

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An Inuvik-based project that will create an association of Northern Indigenous artists from across the Beaufort Delta Region to help support their work and their businesses was one of three ideas awarded $500,000 at the Arctic Inspiration Prize (AIP) awards in Whitehorse on Feb. 12.

The project, titled “Traditional Techniques Tweaked to Galvanize Indigenous Northern Artisans”, was organized by a team led by Sue McNeil, the manager of the Inuvialuit Community Economic Development Organization (ICEDO), who worked closely with Verna Pope, the manager of education at the Gwich’in Tribal Council, and Matthew Dares, the manager of technology development at Aurora College’s research institute.

“We had worked together with Matthew to put the emerging arts and technology program on, and we were listening to the artists chat and we were blown away because we had Elders and young people from all the communities, and they were talking about what they were doing, learning and the products they were making,” said McNeil.

It was May of last year when McNeil and Pope decided to cast a joint submission for the AIP, hoping to create more opportunities to support the artists who had backgrounds in sculpting, crafting, painting and more.

“We thought we needed to get the artists together, have them talking, listen to what they’re thinking and saying, and provide any support we can do because it amazed us,” she said. “It was great.”

Members of the organizing team behind the “Traditional Techniques Tweaked to Galvanize Indigenous Northern Artisans” pose with their $500,000 Arctic Inspiration Prize in the IRC Muskox boardroom on Feb. 15. From left to right: Matthew Dares, Annie Steen, Sue McNeil and Verna Pope. Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Kolb, communications advisor at the IRC
Members of the organizing team behind the “Traditional Techniques Tweaked to Galvanize Indigenous Northern Artisans” pose with their $500,000 Arctic Inspiration Prize in the IRC Muskox boardroom on Feb. 15. From left to right: Matthew Dares, Annie Steen, Sue McNeil and Verna Pope. Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Kolb, communications advisor at the IRC

With the funding from the AIP, McNeil said the first step is to travel to all eight communities in the Beaufort to engage with local artists.

“We’ll have meetings and they’ll come in. We’ll be talking about what the project is about and what it can provide,” she said.

She added that the plan is to group artists in each community together so that they can share their work and ideas amongst one another.

“The other part of is this is that there’ll be representatives from each of these committees, meaning as a whole it will be a regional association,” she said. “We’re hoping to develop a business model that works best for promoting, marketing, doing online sales so that each community is not having to spend the time or resources to do it – it will be done in the region.”

The team will also consult with each community to determine what business model works best for them, specifically looking at the community’s needs and how they can be supported.

“We’re going to be hiring two individuals, one Gwich’in and one Inuvialuit, who will be the business managers for whatever the association will be called. That name will come out of decisions made by the group,” said McNeil. “We’re hiring a mentor who’s a business expert who will mentor those two to ensure that they have skills and financial management in marketing, in basically setting up a website and online skills.”

The end result, she said, will be a sustainable artist association with member communities able to support themselves.

“We would love to see the artists ensure that the traditional skills and designs they use are passed along from the Elders to the youth,” she said. “That they vet their work so that anyone who is going to be selling stuff is vetted through the groups so that they comment on it, that the quality is high and that it represents authentic Indigenous art.”

She said that she also hopes that small businesses emerge from the project, as well as the creation of more authentic products for local residents and tourists alike. She added that we could see artwork and crafts created by the association’s members available to the public by the summertime.

“I’m really excited that the artists’ traditional skills, knowledge and amazing creativity is being supported and encouraged, and they’ll be able to support and sustain themselves by doing the kind of work they like to do,” 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 inuvikdrum@nnsl.com. You can check out his photos on his Instagram account: @aaron.hemens.

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