Celebrating 30 years of northern art and artists

Visitors to the Great Northern Arts Festival in 2017 were treated to traditional First Nations music, dance and arts and crafts

Visitors to the Great Northern Arts Festival in 2017 enjoyed musical performances surrounded by First Nations arts and crafts

This summer marks almost 30 years of the Great Northern Arts Festival. The annual arts festival is held every summer in the vibrant town of Inuvik, from July 13 to 22, at the Midnight Sun Recreation Complex. Each year, artists and performers from First Nations across the North, along with artists from around the world, gather for approximately 10 days in a shared celebration for the arts.

The Great Northern Arts Festival is a venue where artists can see and be exposed to each other’s work. It allows artists to experiment with new applications and give artists the opportunity to establish new relationships and reconnect with long-lasting ones within the art world. The festival includes and encourages art of all types, from fibre arts to the performing arts.

Participants involved partake in master classes, demonstrations, seminars and workshops. And the festival’s gallery offers pieces for sale. The festival also features cultural presentations every evening, which include storytelling, music, dance, concerts and fashion. The festival even has media coverage, bringing festival highlights to viewing audiences.

The Great Northern Arts Festival is a not-for-profit initiative that is managed year-round by a board of volunteers and one full-time employee. The festival’s goal is to create a meaningful experience for the artists, performers and visitors involved. The festival season is staffed by a selection of art professionals, dedicated volunteers and a variety of local vendors.

Given the remote location of most northern communities, the Northern Arts Festival gives artists and craftspeople from these areas a chance to access markets and buyers, as well as to attend professional-development seminars and workshops. The Great Northern Arts Society not only offers workshops and seminars on art, but they also offer workshops and seminars on pricing, marketing, creativity, artist biography writing, funding sourcing and grant-writing, artistic integrity and many other informative subjects.

This year, three Whitehorse-based artists will be attending the Great Northern Arts Festival. Karen Nicloux is one of the three who will be travelling to Inuvik to participate in the 10-day event. She is proficient in the art of embroidery, traditional sewing and beadwork. Karen was born in Mayo, Yukon, and belongs to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun. She is Northern Tutchone and a member of the Wolf Clan, and is also part Cree on her father’s side.

Another local artist who will be attending the festival from Whitehorse is Blair Thorson. Blair’s art consists of watercolors painted on maps, which feature subjects that are Indigenous to the area illustrated, or objects of cultural or historical interest. His artwork echoes the northern lands in which he lives and has explored. He also incorporates the element of copper into his artwork to help emphasize the story of his paintings.

Local artist, Vanessa Aegirsdoriir, will also be participating in this summer’s Great Northern Arts Festival. She is a textile artist with over 20 years experience working with yarn, fabric and other fibre-based media. She hand spins her yarns on a spinning wheel and uses a hand-built frame loom to produce her tapestries. Certain of her works include metallic elements like copper thread and leaf, as well as embroidery and floral eco-printing.

This year around 40 artists will participate in the Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik, from all across the North and around the world.

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