A joint submission from the Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC), the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) and the Aurora Research Institute (ARI) is the first-ever project from the Western Arctic chosen as a finalist for the Arctic Inspiration Prize.
The prize provides up to $3 million cash to recognize and promote the contribution of teams working to improve communities in the Arctic.
The project – which has yet to receive an official name from the artists involved – is an extension of ARI’s Merging Arts and Crafts with Technology and Manufacturing course.
The course is a 10-week immersion for artists and crafters to learn how to use technology such as laser cutting, engraving, 3D modeling and printing, computer-aided design and silk screening to produce traditional arts and crafts.
The project aims to extend the course by creating a network, maker-space and storefront for artists and crafters in Inuvik and the Beaufort Delta Region.
Sue McNeil, team leader and manager of the Inuvialuit Community Economic Development Organization, said the goal of the project is to support artists in starting a business and marketing their art while addressing socioeconomic challenges in the region.
“There aren’t that many jobs available, especially for artists and crafters who want to stay in their communities,” said McNeil. “What we’re hoping is that this project will help them to be able to sell their arts and crafts at a good price in good markets, and earn enough so that they can be living a sustainable lifestyle in the community that they choose to live in.”
McNeil said the first phase of the project will involve setting up committees in all communities in the Gwich’in Settlement Area and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in order to represent the needs of local artists.
The first phase will also include setting up a storefront in Inuvik to sell art, crafts and micro-manufactured goods from around the region. Two managers – one Gwich’in and one Inuvialuit – will be hired to run the store, as well as a mentor who will train the managers in business and financial matters.
“This will mean that the artists will be able to focus on their art while the managers will deal with the business and financial side of things,” said McNeil. “As the project progresses, artists will be taught how to manage the business and financials for themselves so they can go off and start their own businesses if they choose to.”
The second phase of the project will involve setting up smaller stores in each community as well as maker-spaces so that artists can create and sell out of their home communities. Equipment experts from ARI will travel between the communities to train artists to use equipment such as 3D printers and laser cutters.
The project is competing in the $500,000 Arctic Inspiration Prize category.
McNeil said if the project wins, it will enable the team to set up the storefront, hire two managers and a mentor, purchase office equipment, start a website, and travel to the communities to set up the committees.
She said the prize money would be a huge step for the project.
“For the Canadian Arctic, culture is so important, whether it is Gwich’in or Inuit. This project is a way that artists can rejuvenate their work and bring it back into the public eye and for younger artists to express themselves in more current and technological terms without losing their culture in a way that makes sense to them,” said McNeil. “For Canada, the project is a way of seeing the Arctic as it is constantly adapting but continuing to maintain its culture and values, which is something that gets missed sometimes.”
McNeil added that the project would not be possible without the strong collaboration between GTC, IRC and ARI.
“There is so much we can make possible with these strong partnerships. This project is already becoming so much more than we expected … this kind of collaboration is awesome and I love to see it in Inuvik,” she said. “We’re a small town that can.”