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Great Northern Arts Festival closes its 25th year
Northern artists pour into inspired cultural event

Simon Whitehouse
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Great Northern Arts Festival wrapped up Sunday after over a week of artists pouring into the North.

NNSL photo/graphic

Tanya Tagaq returned to her roots July 16 with a performance at the Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik. The singer, raised in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, said she could hardly believe that it had been 13 years since she made her major debut at the festival. - Shawn Giilck/NNSL photo

From elderly women sitting on the floor and scraping hide to rapid-fire knitters to beaders, carvers and caribou tufters, they all came to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the unique festival that many northerners look forward to in July.

At press time, festival organizers said they anticipating the grand finale weekend, which included the Arctic fashion show on July 20.

One highlight that stood out since the festival opened was the opening ceremony at the Midnight Sun Recreation Complex on July 12, which drew 400 to 500 people, said Marnie Hilash, the festival's executive director.

The event included the Fort Good Hope Drummers and Inuvik Drummers and Dancers drumming the whale bone into the gallery with festival society chair Marja van Nieuwenhuyzen in tow.

"Someone said 'I hope the fire inspector isn't around,' because I think we have exceeded the capacity of the room," said Hilash of the event's high turnout.

A cultural and heritage gathering was held from July 13 to 16, which Hilash said was the best opportunity for artists to get professional development throughout the festival.

Hilash said a popular doll-making workshop on July 14 and 15, hosted by Helen Iguptak of Rankin Inlet, was a huge hit among those who paid to attend.

"It was a singular opportunity to learn from a master, which often many of our workshops are like that," said Hilash.

A performance by Cambridge Bay, Nunavut singer Tanya Taqaq on July 16 was popular as well, according to Hilash, who said it was so energetic, it was like taking a triple shot of espresso.

The weather was up and down for much of the festival, said Hilash, but often worse conditions are often better because it has keeps visitors close to the festival activities.

"Some of the best festivals in my recollection are when the weather was not good because people, once they got into the venue, would stick around and come out to the events and buy art," she said. "It is a funny thing that weather a little bit cooler is more agreeable for us because people coming in from the communities find a hot Inuvik summer a little more unbearable."

Maidie-Anne Turner, an artist from Inuvik who does paintings, stain glass works and carvings, was working on some paintings during the festival. They included an abstract raven, an inukshuk and a few watercolour pieces. An eight-year veteran of the festival, Turner said it provides a good opportunity for artists like herself who work full time to meet other people and see other mediums and styles.

"The people working on the site, which I guess is not common to most festivals, is so intriguing because you get this creative feeling when you are around so many creative people," said Turner on how she first got interested in participating in the festival.

"I think the festival is great, and I hope it continues into the future because we are such a large place."

Georgina Fabian, a caribou hair tufter from Hay River who attended the festival for the first time, said she was highly inspired by being in the presence of other artists from throughout the North.

"Oh man, is it ever inspiring because everywhere you turn, you see culture," she said. "Everywhere (you look), people speaking their language or crafts are being done and everywhere you turn, people are busy doing something and making stuff."

For her, Fabian said she was happy to have the opportunity to explain how caribou hair differs from moose hair and how it can be used to sew and make various beautiful visual arts.

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