In a joint announcement on Friday, Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod announced two new initiatives will receive $734,000 of federal funding in Inuvik.

Over $500,000 of that investment will go toward a new solar project and the remainder will fund an arts and crafts micro-manufacturing centre located in Aurora College’s old trades shop behind the GNWT building.

Meaghan Richens/NNSL photo
From left: Nihtat Gwich’in Council president Jozef Carnogursky, MP Michael McLeod and interim Aurora College president Jeff O’Keefe at a funding announcement last week.

The Arts, Crafts and Technology Micro-Manufacturing Centre (ACTMC) will receive $196,500 over the next two years from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) in addition to a $57,500 contribution from the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) and $60,000 from Aurora College. The new centre was developed by the college in partnership with the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the Gwich’in Tribal Council, and ITI.

“This centre will provide opportunities, equipment, access to equipment access to supports for artists and artisans in the region to examine ways to micro-manufacture their art,” said Jeff O’Keefe, interim president of Aurora College.

“I think we’re seeing a big boom in tourism in this region, particularly linked to the Inuvik-Tuk highway. We’re seeing Northern tourism related to aurora viewing, those types of things. And this is an opportunity for artists to take advantage of that boom in tourism in this region to create an income stream for themselves by developing their art into commercialized products that they can sell and build that business opportunity for themselves.”

Right now their focus is on meeting the needs of the Beaufort Delta region, where approximately 1,400 residents produce and sell their arts and crafts, 600 of whom are in Inuvik.

“This is a great opportunity for them to build on their passion, their skills,” said O’Keefe.

The new funding will allow the college to offer the course again in the coming months and also opens the doors for artists to become members of the centre.

“To come in here on their own schedule, to build on their own products, their own brands, their own artistic designs through a membership style. Not as a student but as a client or a member of the centre,” he said.

The centre officially opened to members last week. A membership costs $150 per month or about $1500 a year and gives artists access to a range of tools, including 3D printers, laser cutting and screen printing.

The idea for the centre grew out of the Merging Arts and Crafts with Technology and Manufacturing program, a 10-week course that introduced existing and aspiring artisans to the potential artistic and economic benefits of micro-manufacturing. The program was first offered last January in Inuvik and was so popular that the college offered a second program in October.

Artisan Ruth Elanik took the course in October and said having access to this equipment has been very useful for creating art.

“When we first started we were given a two-week course on computers and just learning to draw and learning to do our artwork on the computers,” said Elanik. “Because everything had to be transferred over to either the laser or the plastic 3D printer or the woodwork.”

Elanik sells traditional crafts that she makes at home, such as purses with intricate beadwork, but has used the micro-manufacturing facilities to create new products like 3D-printed raven feather earrings, ulu shaped cookie-cutters and laser-cut woodwork.

Meaghan Richens/NNSL photo
Ruth Elanik holds up a piece of work she created using the laser at the new centre with her mother’s name Naoyaq, which means seagull. “I’m very proud to say her name,” said Elanik. “I’m Gwich’in and Inuvialuit, I have a Gwich’in name and an Inuvialuit name and I’m very proud of my two groups.”

“Oh I love it, I tell you,” she said. “I find it so helpful in my art, it gives me a break from my art at home.”

The technology at the centre allows her to make art much faster, Elanik said.

“Like at home I could cut out 10 pairs of little slippers but I have to sew them together and I do it by hand. But here I could ten pairs of raven earrings and all I have to do is put on the hooks, because everything is already on the computer.”

While the 3D printing is fast and convenient, Elanik said she enjoys using traditional materials from on the land.

“When we go and get wood for our home, we use dry wood so all the little pieces that are hanging off I don’t waste it, I use the wood for art,” she said.

“This gives us more opportunity. It’s fast artwork I could say.”

Meaghan Richens

Meaghan Richens is from Ottawa, Ont., and grew up in Perth. She moved to Yellowknife in May 2018 after completing her bachelor’s degree in journalism at Carleton University. She writes about politics,...

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