The territory’s premier arts association is in limbo, at best, doors closed in Iqaluit after more than 20 years supporting artists across the territory.
In its heyday, Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association (NACA) hosted not only an annual festival showcasing the works of talented Nunavummiut, but facilitated smaller workshops and conferences to bolster the art economy.
Now it’s unclear whether the heavily-indebted organization will even be able to resume operations, as there have been no board meetings for more than a year and a half and a board member says no information has circulated during this time either.
NACA was formed in 1998 to help visual artists promote and sell their work. It also served as a networking tool for artists.
While other arts associations and organizations fill the gaps as far as performing arts and music are concerned, visual and traditional artists may find themselves left to self-promotion with no central hub in the territory.
“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,” says Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster, who headed NACA for nearly two years as executive director until September 2020.
This means that there is a significant population base within the territory that could benefit from a properly functioning arts organization.
The GN, in a 2010 economic impact study on arts in Nunavut, stated that “Through its multiple stages from material supply, to product creation and wholesale and retail distribution, the sector generates a total economic impact of $33.4 million annually,” or more than 1,000 full-time equivalent jobs.
NACA outlined a number of threats to its ability to function as an organization in a 2009 strategic plan, including damage to its reputation; climate change issues; the continued, decades-long difficulty in locating and quarrying stone stock for carvers; the looming threat of the European Union’s seal products ban – now extended to more than 30 countries – and availability of tools and the ability to purchase them.
Brewster also brought up “governance issues,” which the strategic plan alludes to in the form of a lack of presence in the communities, a lack of direction, as well as a need to update and strengthen bylaws and policy.
The organization seemed to have had plenty of good ideas in its plan, but did it lack the will to see it through?
An arts curriculum from kindergarten through to college, potentially developed to be delivered in Inuktitut, would have been an amazing, culturally relevant initiative between the departments of Economic Development and Tourism and Education. It would also engage youth, a target demographic for NACA, which stated in 2009 that fewer and fewer youth are choosing a career in the arts.
Goals for the 2013-14 fiscal year included providing current and accurate information about the arts sector, but that must have been when the buck stopped, as anything online relating to Nunavut arts seems to be sorely lacking after the GN’s Sanaugait arts strategy wrapped in 2013.
Sanaugait stated more than 10 per cent of Canadian art sold internationally is Inuit art, and that was nearly 15 years ago.
With such large contributions to the social and economic fabric of the territory and country, it’s a shame artists are being left to fend for themselves. While featured heavily in the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Qaumajuq exhibit, Nunavut artists deserve more opportunities to market themselves domestically and internationally, and greater support to do their work.