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Nunavut Arts Festival kicks off with a barbecue

Fourteen artists from across the territory will join artists in Iqaluit for six days developing their skills and sharing their knowledge with each other as the Nunavut Arts Festival gets underway July 4.

photo courtesy of Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association
Jaco Ishulutaq, a master carver from Pangnirtung, works outside the visitor's centre as part of a mutli-media collaboration between artists last year's Nunavut Arts Festival.

And the public is invited.

"Most of our programming focuses on the artist and their development, their professional skill development and their networking," said Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association's (NACA) manager of communications and membership Thomas Rohner.

"This year we're reserving a smaller number of spots in the workshops for the general public and a larger number of spots for Nunavut artists. They are open to the general public but they are designed more with artists in mind."

But Rohner says it's important to point out, especially in Nunavut, people who aren't selling their art can be very good artists.

"In fact, according to an INAC report from last year, about a third of all Nunavummiut produce art in some form," said Rohner.

An example would be Babah Kalluk, the artist commissioned to design this year's festival logo, which is also being printed on NACA's signature festival T-shirts.

Kalluk was born in Resolute – one of the last babies born in the community – and raised there, and it's where he taught himself to draw. By day, he works for the Government of Nunavut's education department, in finance.

Kalluk, who has drawn posters and illustrated books, hasn't been as active with his art of late, but examples of his work are intricate, detailed, and striking. He provided a few different pieces for NACA's consideration, and the team chose his rendition of the Inuit mythological character, named variously Innulaaq, Katutajuk, among others.

"We had to pick one that would look good on a T-shirt," said Rohner.

photo courtesy of Babah Kalluk
Artist and illustrator Babah Kalluk, seen here working on one of his intricate pieces, designed the logo for this year's Nunavut Arts Festival.

Kalluk say his mother bought him his first comic book.

"My first comic was the Incredible Hulk and I fell in love with that art style. I've always wanted to become an artist, since I was around five to seven. I started drawing more and more. Long winters, 24-hour darkness for three or four months. You've got a lot of time on your hands," said Kalluk, who now lives in Iqaluit.

But after high school, when he attended a portfolio development workshop, he heard the words "starving artist" for the first time, and repeatedly.

"I really didn't like that term. So once I came back I decided I'll just get a job to pay the bills and I'll draw and illustrate on the side."


Festival fare

The festival programming is divided into events and workshops, offering a creative mix of options.

It all kicks off with opening ceremonies and a barbecue at Sylvia Grinnell Park Pavillion Wednesday, July 4. All are welcome and admission is free for artists.

Events of note for the public are the artists' free studio time and the Nunavut Day Art Fair July 9. The free studio time is at Nakasuk School Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. This is space provided for artists to prepare more work for the fair, but it's also a great opportunity for the public to visit, watch artists at work and chat.

"The Nunavut Day Art Fair is the biggest event of the whole festival," said Rohner, adding last year a continuous stream of people packed the Nakasuk School gym.

Workshops include: mould-making and casting with artist and professor Zeke Moores; sealskin upholstery with master upholsterer Pablo Quiroz; traditional pattern-making with master seamstresses Koonoo Muckpaloo and Theresie Ukaliannuk; leather for bags and accessories with seamstress, designer and painter Tesh Kosowan; pixel art and 3D modeling, both with Pinnguaq; and art marketing for artists with the Winnipeg Art Gallery's retail operations manager Sherri Van Went.

"The workshops were selected to find a balance between developing artists and their skills but, also, appealing to the artists in the general public," said Rohner.

"For example, the mould-making and casting workshop is pretty much designed for established artists, such as carvers and jewelers. The workshop could allow them to reproduce, in a cost-efficient manner, for larger-scale sales."

Rohner gives the example of the sort of pieces sold at the airport, made and imported from outside Nunavut.

"There's no reason all that stuff couldn't be made in Nunavut and this is the exact kind of skill that artists would need to compete with other markets," he said.

He points to the leatherwork for bags and accessories workshop as a something both professionals and hobbyists would enjoy.

photo courtesy of Babah Kalluk
The Inuit mythological character known as Innulaaq, Katutajuk and other names, graces this year's Nunavut Arts Festival logo, as interpreted by artist Babah Kalluk. The character had a big head – sometimes with breasts for cheeks – legs and no body. It's known to be feisty, mischievous, and strong enough to break through an iglu wall.