Yukon Artists: At Work for 10 Years

There will be music on the walls and in the air when the Yukon Artists @ Work (YAAW) Gallery celebrates its 10th anniversary on November 1.

The gallery, the Yukon‘s only not-for-profit artists’ co-operative, is celebrating a decade of artist support with a show by one of its original members, Lillian Loponen. The co-op’s accomplished watercolourist will present “a melody of old and new visual tunes.”

That musical theme is appropriate — it’s a joyful time for the co-op’s members, who have at times struggled to keep the business alive, and its membership united.

The gallery had humble begins, recalls Harreson Tanner, who was first approached in 2003 with the idea by local artists Linda Glass and Philomena Carroll.

“We worked out the concept of artists taking control of their own careers by creating their own venue to promote their art,” he recalls. “We wanted to create a supportive community to develop the local market and outside-the-territory markets for artists.”

The first venue, at what is now the Rosati Arts and Business Centre in the McCrae subdivision, created a funky alternative showcase for Yukon artists. Approximately a dozen artists were there for the opening. Since then, it has grown to more than 35 members: printmakers and photographers, sculptors and painters, artists working with wood, glass, metal, and every media in between.

The gallery is run by a volunteer board, which juries its members in. All work has to be original to the Yukon, by Yukon artists. Artists pay a monthly membership, and take turns staffing the gallery seven days a week. As an artist-run gallery, it takes a smaller commission than a commercial space, making it a good place for emerging artists to make money while building their careers.

“It is a lovely means to present and sell work on a grassroots, community level,” says photographer Marten Berkman, a member for nine years. “It is huge in connecting to my local community and Yukon visitors alike.”

The gallery began has been visited by the likes of Governor General Michaelle Jean in 2007 and 2010 Olympics CEO John Furlong. It was also named one of the top 10 hidden gems of Canada by the global tourism website TripAdvisor.

But having a social conscience accompanies commerce at YAAW. The gallery has hosted fundraisers for organizations like Blood Ties, helped out members through difficult financial times or medical emergencies, and created the Artists Relief Fund.

The power of the co-op is in its ability to connect artists with the public. It’s what visual artist Nicole Bauberger loves about YAAW, even though she was dubious when first approached.

“I had no interest in working retail,” she recalls. “But over the years I have come to love working my shifts. Talking to visitors to the gallery and having them reflect back to me what they see in my art has helped shape my thinking about art itself.”

Which is not to say there haven’t been differences of opinion, hard times in economic down turns, and struggles over direction and strategy. Still, Tanner has no problems explaining the secrets of YAAW’s success.

“The model has survived for 10 years through huge volunteer commitments, both time and money, on the backs of its members,” he says. “It has provided a fantastic venue for every Yukoner to be proud of, to take ownership of and to support.”

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