Supporting the Economy Through the Arts

You could expect a 10-years lifespan from mining projects, and Hakonson is well aware that placer miners have been roaming the creeks since 1898 and show no signs of stopping, but the short life of Viceroy’s Brewery Creek Mine and the short lived Clinton Creek asbestos mine tend to prove his point.

The reliable economic base in Dawson had been government, mining and tourism and Hakonson saw the arts as having the potential to provide another leg to the stool.

As a result, the Dawson City Arts Society (DCAS) formed in the spring of 1998. From that point on, the society has been instrumental in launching arts activities, programs, festivals and more – each providing jobs and indirect economic benefit to the community.

By the autumn of 1998, DCAS had obtained the Odd Fellows Hall on Second Avenue.

The building was moribund, but Hakonson spurred the drive to rebuild it and turn it into an arts showplace with assistance from governments, community associations, the private sector, and numerous volunteers.

DCAS became the governing body and the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture (KIAC) became its program arm. The doors opened in December 1999 and in March 2000 Governor General Adrienne Clarkson attended the first art show at the ODD Gallery.

The first annual Dawson City International Short Film Festival was held the next month.

From its inception to today, DCAS is directly responsible for approximately six jobs through KIAC and indirectly for plenty more arts-related economic activities.

In 2001, the community saw the first Yukon Riverside Arts Festival (reviving the Discovery Day celebrations); the grand opening of the KIAC Artist Residency, housed in the Macaulay House, owned by Parks Canada; and the first edition of the Youth Art Enrichment program.

Over the next few years the Arts for Employment program would be run in partnership with Yukon College, acting as a pilot project for the eventual establishment of the Yukon School of Visual Art (originally KIAC) in another resurrected building on Third Avenue.

The list of programs that DCAS/KIAC runs or assists includes community arts courses, visual arts, music lessons, media arts, dance and movement, writing workshops, performing arts, a summer art camp, concerts, theatre productions, monthly coffee house/open mic nights, the annual 48 Hour Film Competition and snow carving during Thaw di Gras. The reports tabled at the latest annual general meeting have lists that go on for pages.

DCAS president Peter Menzies refers to the society as a key element in a cultural cluster in town. It partners with the Dawson City Music Festival, Yukon SOVA, Yukon College, the Robert Service School, the Dawson Community Library, Parks Canada and the Berton House Writers’ Retreat to accomplish a great many things.

Presently DCAS is working on developing the second year of an ArtsGate project with the newly formed Friends of Bear Creek Society, and is part of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in’s regional economic development plan, looking to revitalize the use of the for live performances and establish some variety of Artists’ Cooperative in the region.

In the 15 years since that seminal conversation DCAS has embedded itself in the community and added an artistic touch to the Klondike.