The heavily indebted Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association is in disarray, if not unofficially defunct.

The non-profit organization’s office in Iqaluit recently closed. Its telephone number is no longer in service.

A board member, speaking off the record, said there hasn’t been a board meeting since prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and no information has been circulated to board members during that entire period.

Board chair Jesse Tungilik couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Department of Economic Development and Transportation (EDT), which used to provide $550,000 in core funding to the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association (NACA), isn’t giving any money to NACA from the 2021-22 budget, nor did it in 2020-21.

Asked for insight on NACA’s status, the GN department stated: “EDT has not been made aware of a change in NACA’s legal status as an organization. EDT has been informed that NACA is no longer maintaining an administrative office in Iqaluit.”

The department added that it’s “assessing NACA’s situation and exploring options to move forward.”

Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster, who served as NACA’s executive director for close to two years until last September, said she discovered “significant debt” that the organization had run up in the past. Although she said she couldn’t go into detail publicly for confidentiality reasons, she disclosed that there was enough money owing that it impacted day-to-day operations and “the ability to stay afloat.”

She briefed EDT about NACA’s difficulties prior to her departure, and that included “governance issues,” which is a similar challenge that many organizations face across the territory, she said. She referred to it as a “systemic issue,” not something that’s the fault of any individual. But a lack of oversight from the territorial government played a role, she contended.

Covid-19 was another major factor in NACA’s decline, she suggested, as the lockdowns made it even more difficult to “rally board members.”

NACA was formed in October 1998 to promote and work on behalf of the territory’s visual artists. The annual Nunavut Arts Festival was its centrepiece event, along with various workshops and conferences.

Former Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak, while speaking in the legislative assembly in March, inquired about NACA’s footing. She noted that the last time she asked about the association in 2020, EDT Minister David Akeeagok told the House that the organization was not in compliance with the terms and conditions of its GN contribution agreement.

“Sadly, there is no update. It is still ongoing. I want to assure this House that there is no partnership agreement in place until all that is settled with the (NACA) board. Right now, there is no resolution to date with the Nunavut Arts and Crafts and their board. Right now it is in a limbo,” Akeeagok said at the time. “We would like to continue to work with them, but when you don’t have that, you don’t have (an agreement). I want to assure this House that what’s been approved for our partnership program, when terms of conditions are not being met, we do seize that. At this point, as sad as I am, we have seized that.”

Arts organization needed

Brewster said it’s important that Nunavut maintain an arts and crafts organization that can support Nunavummiut artists.

“Well over thirty-five per cent of adult Nunavut Inuit self-identify as artists and many of those artists come from multi-generational families of artists,” she said. “There are so many economic drivers for having an arts organization. There are really, really important mental health drivers because we know when we’re creating art that we’re healthier and happier… I speak as an artist when I say that.”

She added that the art from Nunavut has helped raise the profile of the territory across the country.

“Inuit art is part of the Canadian psyche,” she said.

Although EDT stated that it’s not “able to comment on the financial position of an independent organization like NACA,” it noted that “when EDT enters into an agreement with an organization like NACA, the department does not assume or accept responsibility for debts that the organization may have incurred.”

The department added that it “remains committed and continues to work to ensure that Nunavut artists, arts organizations, and communities have access to programs and services that support the arts sector,” adding that more than $5 million has been committed to support the overall arts sector in 2021-22.

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