Every year for 10 days, northern artists and art lovers gather in Inuvik, a small town of 3,400 in the NWT, to celebrate culture and creativity.  

Entering its 28th year, the Great Northern Arts Festival features almost 60 artists from the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Running from July 15 to 24, the activities include music performances, a fashion show representing every facet of Northern culture and workshops where participants can learn from the artists.

What to See

The northern art disciplines range from carving to traditional kayak building and more. Artists come from all over the North to participate in the festival and exhibit their crafts and pieces.

Kevin Floyd, an artist from Inuvik, creates traditional Inuvialuit qayaqs and pautiks, which are traditional boats and paddles used to hunt seals, used for thousands of years by hunters travelling across the arctic waters.

Koomuatuk Curley is a Cape Dorset, Nunavut carver whose commissioned sculpture of an Inuit soccer player carved from a 26-tonne granite boulder was recently unveiled in honour of Aboriginal Day at York University in Toronto.

Jennifer Buckley from the fishing village of Hay River, NWT will be showcasing her art honouring the town’s long connection with marine life. Her art style uses the unique medium of fish scales and bones to create intricate and delicate patterns from nature.

Three artists – Jolly Atagoyuk from Pangnirtung, NU, Roberta Memogana from Inuvik, NWT, and Louie Nigiyok from Ulukhaktok, NWT – will bring printmaking to the festival using a variety of methods and materials. Atagouk is known around the globe for his lino prints and etchings. Memogana and Nigiyok use an Inuit stone-cut technique in which an original drawing is reproduced through a flattened stone block smoothed by sanding. The process of stone-cut printing is a long one and every print is unique, as the stone block is inked each time.  

Other artists specialize in jewellery making, ceramics, textiles, and even basketry, steeped in traditional materials and techniques.

What to Learn

A unique aspect of the festival is the sheer number of workshops that allow you to learn from the artists themselves. If you see an artistic medium you like at the festival, chances are there is a workshop in which you can learn how to try it. Get ready to roll up your sleeves and dive deep into the world of arts and crafts. You are sure to come out of it with new skills – and art you made yourself.

If you love the look of traditional moccasins, you may want to take the Beaded Uppers workshop with Margaret Vittrekwa, who’s from Fort McPherson, NWT. You will learn to bead as you create the top, decorated portion of moccasins.

There are various stone carving workshops with different artists who will offer full-day introductions into the art form. Learn about which tools to use and leave the session with a unique carving of your own.

Tackle a larger project and weave a Saori scarf on a loom, carve your own pautik – a qayak paddle – over multiple sessions, or craft your own rawhide drum and mallet in the Cree style.

Festival Information

The Great Northern Arts Festival runs July 15 to 24 in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, at the Midnight Sun Complex. Full festival information and a schedule are available online at www.GNAF.org.

Getting There

Getting to Inuvik by car is an opportunity to enjoy an iconic Yukon road trip along the Dempster Highway. The Dempster starts at Dawson City, stretches right past the Arctic Circle and ends in Inuvik and offers travellers endless scenic views on the way.

If you don’t have unlimited vacation time, you can also fly there. More than one airline offers flights between the Yukon and Inuvik.