Ruth Wright had only ever used traditional methods in her art before enrolling in Aurora College’s 10-week Merging Arts and Crafts with Technology and Manufacturing course.
“It was all brand new to me,” said Wright. “You have to learn how to do your art in a really different way, and it really opened up the doors and gave me different perspectives, so it’s been really cool.”
Wright, who is from Inuvik, said she has dabbled in many artistic mediums throughout her life.
“I dabble in everything,” she said. “I’ve made homemade paper out of the plants that we have here … I’ve done some carving, I’ve done some drawing – I like abstract, there’s already enough people doing the other stuff.”
She said the course is valuable to artists in Inuvik and especially those from surrounding communities because it is teaching people skills that they can then share with others back home.
“In each community they have a 3-D printer, so then they’ll be able to show the kids and community what they’ve learned here,” Wright said. “It opens the kids’ minds and broadens their horizons with each little thing they do.”
Wright says the course is also teaching her how to sell her art, which she isn’t used to doing.
“I’m not used to selling my stuff, and that’s what this is all about, micro-manufacturing,” she said. “I just want to make sure my art is going to a good home. They’re my babies!”
Wright says she has considered opening her own shop one day to sell her own art and pieces from other artists, but for now, she says she’s really enjoying learning new ways of doing art.
Her favourite piece is a plaque she engraved with a saying and wolf paw prints representing her family tree.
“I’m Vuntut Gwich’in, and I belong to the wolf clan, so they’re all wolf paw prints.”
Matthew Dares, manager of technology development at Aurora Research Institute, said the course, which started in mid-January 2018, is in its first run with 10 students.
Students are learning a variety of skills, including laser cutting, engraving, 3-D modeling and printing, computer-aided design, silk screening and more.
“We’re hoping that this course will help local artists grow a small business in art manufacturing,” said Dares. “The goal of this program is to enable people to micro-manufacture their art, taking advantage of technology that’s being used in other places but hasn’t really penetrated the North.”
Dares says micro-manufacturing means that artists will be able to reproduce their art in small batches in order to make it more profitable and less time-consuming.
“Art that previously took a large investment but had a cap on what people were willing to pay, you can now put the investment into the creativity part of it one time and then micro-manufacture a run of that art,” said Dares. “It really allows an artists to see a real return on their effort,”
The program is a collaborative effort of the Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC), the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC), the Inuvialuit Community Economic Development Organization (ICEDO), Aurora College, the Aurora Research Institute, Industry, Tourism, and Investment (ITI) and Education, Culture and Employment (ECE).
“We all came together and talked about what could be done to design a course that would bring micro-manufacturing and technology access to artists in the Beaufort Delta,” said Dares. “These artists will come out of this program with a toolset, a skillset that will participate in a space that allows them to manufacture their art.”
The partners involved hope to eventually open an art manufacturing space a few days a week in which local artists can continue to work with the new mediums they’ve learned.
“We’ve turned the original vision for this course into a reality, and seeing the very obvious success of this program running, and the potential for it to continue, is a real credit to the innovative thinking of the organizations operating in this region,” Dares said. “This has been amazing and it took a lot of vision. This is not a small commitment to put on training like this.”