What would happen if you combined some of the Yukon’s best artists with Western Canada’s biggest art fair?
The fair, known as Art Vancouver, is a four-day annual event where artists and gallery owners, from B.C. and beyond, can show and sell high-quality art. Art Vancouver attracts thousands of art lovers and collectors who come to see new art by artists whose work they might like to buy and collect.
Four outstanding artists—Ken Anderson, Amy Ball, Krystle Silverfox and Veronica Verkley, all finalists for the 2021 Yukon Prize for Visual Arts—were available to attend Art Vancouver in person and to make some of their recent art available for exhibit. The other finalists, Joseph Tisiga and Sho Sho Esquiro, could not attend, but we thought we could find ways to make sure their art was represented.
To find out what would happen, we rented a 20- by 30-foot booth at Art Vancouver and, together with the artists, spent four days in May showing visitors what Yukon art is about.
We loved hearing the reactions from visitors to Art Vancouver. Many said they had no idea that Yukoners produced such good art. They were surprised by the variety of media that Yukon artists use.
They took selfies next to Joseph Tisiga’s large collages and behind Ken Anderson’s interactive mask “Mosquito Becomes Me.” They were awed by Veronica Verkley’s animal sculptures. They admired Amy Ball’s drawings of Kokanee beer cans, which raised questions about the relationship between the natural world and manufactured products. Visitors who keep up with art news congratulated Krystle Silverfox on being named to the long list for the 2022 Sobey Art Award, Canada’s richest art prize.
Most importantly, many of the visitors to the booth lingered. They appreciated the complexity of the art and took time to reflect on it. As lovers of Yukon art, we were glad to see others begin to appreciate it too.
Designing a booth that would show Yukon art to its best advantage was no small task, especially in a space with so many other exhibitors. Our goal was to create a booth that all Yukoners could be proud of—a place to elevate Yukon art and artists, where the public could engage with the art.
Some comfortable chairs in the booth encouraged those with tired feet to rest and reflect. Two beaver pelts brought a touch of the Yukon and stimulated conversations, among big-city folks, about how beavers live. A quiet corner offered a place to watch videos and stills of Yukon art and artists.
The booth was designed by Lynn Feasey of Points North Creative, whose work is well-known across the North, and was executed by Lynn and by Courtney Holmes, whose work as an arts administrator in Whitehorse is widely recognized. Time after time, visitors told us that the Yukon Prize booth was the best booth at Art Vancouver.
While at Art Vancouver, the artists had a chance to talk with visitors about their art and meet collectors, curators and people who run galleries. Collectors love hearing artists talk about their art and making a personal connection. Relationships take time to build, and an art fair is a good place to start.
Ken Anderson, Amy Ball and Veronica Verkley were the stars of a well-attended panel discussion where they talked about the special challenges of creating art in Canada’s North and what it means to be a northern artist. (Tip: Dawson’s dump-site is considered the best source of hard-to-find art supplies).
We were pleased to see Whitehorse artists Emma Barr and Erin Dixon, who each had their own booths at Art Vancouver. There are so many good artists whose work deserves to be better known!
The presence of Yukon Prize at Art Vancouver was made possible by funds from the Yukon Government and private donors, along with many hours from committed volunteers. Air North donated flights and transported some of the art at no charge. Air North and Northern Vision Development (NVD) Yukon Hotels sponsored a prize for a trip (for two) to explore Yukon art in the Yukon. The Yukon Prize partners, the Yukon Arts Foundation and the Yukon Arts Centre provided in-kind support.
Why would we do all this? Because we need to create more pathways for Yukon artists to sell their art in the rest of Canada. Per capita, the Yukon has more visual artists than any other province or territory. Yukoners are great supporters of local artists, but Yukon artists make more art than Yukoners can buy. Showing and selling Yukon art in a major market can provide greater income for the artists. It is also an opportunity to spotlight the Yukon’s creative talents and to share Yukon stories with all of Canada.
Promoting Yukon art and artists in the rest of Canada is not a short-term task. The Art Vancouver event was an important test of what is possible. We are glad to see that YG’s new Creative and Cultural Industries Strategy makes a commitment to developing marketing and export strategies for the arts. We need to aim high. The annual Art Toronto fair offers an entrée into Canada’s largest and most-influential art market. Cultural tourism—offering easy ways for visitors to the Yukon to see and buy the best of Yukon art—has rich potential. We want more Canadians to appreciate the Yukon—where art is gold.