Robyn Scott, local artist and a community arts organizer, held her first show last year at the Gallery on 47th Street. It was then that she realized artists in the NWT were facing some challenges, and she believes space could be a big reason.
During the preparation phase of her show, she was trying to track down a place to hold her first event.
“I tried multiple places, like the (Explorer) hotel, a beautiful facility, but out of reach for an independent artist,” she said.
She eventually got sponsorship from the Racquet Club to let her use its yoga studio for the show, but she said it was absurd that artists didn’t have a space in Yellowknife that was attainable.
But there was also things happening that made her feel hopeful.
“I’m very grateful to Ainsley Dempsey, who opened the Gallery on 47th Street,” said Scott. “The gallery was started last fall — the space is open to individual artists for one or two weeks duration with full service — and I think that Ainsley has done something very brave.”
Artists who are willing to use the space pay a commission to display and sell their works.
Though there is a gallery now for artists to show their work, Scott feels that is not enough.
“The government shoud be intervening and taking care of this,” said Scott. “Because of the courage of one individual, artists now in Yellowknife have place to display and sell their work. But the government has not stepped up, especially with the NWT Arts Strategy. It’s full of vague promises and rhetoric about supporting artists without any concrete plans or measurable objectives.”
That doesn’t mean Scott is denying the territorial government hasn’t stepped up.
”I’m very grateful to NWT Arts for having me registered and they’ve provided me with three different opportunities this year to sell and promote my artwork,” she said.
Yellowknifer asked the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) about the spacing issue and lack of support that Scott mentioned.
“There is the NWT Arts Program, a marketing program for artists of the NWT,” Johanna Tiemessen, manager of art and traditional economies with ITI said. “Artists can sign up for the program for free and create a profile on the website, which can have links to where they sell their work. NWT Arts supports artists grow their business by providing tools for them. We also have a workshop series to help artists sell their work.”
Displaying and selling are two different things, added Tiemessen.
(Selling) is the job of private business. The GNWT cannot sell work for artists as that would create a market conflict for private businesses trying to do the same,” she said.
She also said that there is a program called Support for Enterpreneurs and Economic Development (SEED) that artists can apply for to help support their business.
“Depending on an artist’s business goals, there may be funding they can access from the SEED policy,” she said. “For example, artists can access micro-business funding for materials and supplies. This funding is administered out of regional ITI offices.”
Scott has some bigger ideas, such as taking artworks to communities such as Norman Wells, Tuktoyaktuk, or even expand into Yukon but without government help, that won’t be able to happen.
Scott, who’s also an art teacher at Sir John Franklin High School, said she’s telling her students on a daily basis that being an artist is important and that having a creative voice and contributing to culture is important as it is a legitimate career with a real future.
But she’s sometimes hesitant to tell the students that.
“If they really got on that boat, they have to leave their home because the government isn’t doing enough to be able to help them to legitimize and professionalize the work and that is disappointing,” she said.
In the meantime, she is learning about how to navigate the system, such as researching what kind of supports or benefits artists can get, or how to manage an art career as a business.
“I’ve started to see a lot of cracks and I also spend a lot of time mentoring other artists on how to navigate the grant system and where they can do shows,” said Scott. “As I’m learning, I want to be able to share that information to make the journey easier for other artists.”