Will there be a Great Northern Arts Festival in 2024? No one appears to know — and the lack of information has some artists increasingly concerned.
A longtime carver and commercial artist, Aklavik’s Robert Buckle has relied on the Great Northern Arts Festival for years to both create and sell a good portion of his works, which range from antler jewelry to shaped metals.
“I have the last few years produced most my work at the festival, usually doing 14-16 hour days with my friend Martin Goodliffe,” Buckle said. “I also carve stone. I have four carvings started and enough stone I bought while attending GNAF (Great Northern Arts Festival).”
He said he has attended the festival at least 25 times and he routinely reinvests his income in purchasing more arts materials. So when the festival was cancelled abruptly this summer due to “staffing concerns,” it put a serious dent in Buckle’s bottom line.
And with the GNAF society still without an executive director, he’s wondering aloud if there will be a festival in 2024.
“Work should really begin for next year, if it’s to happen,” he said. “A fundraising plan should have been implemented for 2023-2024 for the 2024 GNAF.”
Already, the Inuvik Christmas Craft Fair, normally one of two major events put on by GNAF, is instead being organized this year by the GNWT’s Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment and the Town of Inuvik. But the Great Northern Arts Festival itself, normally a 10-day affair with musicians, an art gallery and fashion shows, takes a substantially longer and more involved effort to coordinate.
Aside from showcasing volumes of artwork from across the North, GNAF also provides high-end equipment for artists’ use.
NNSL reached out to the GNAF society for comment but did not receive a response.
Buckle said if the society hasn’t applied for the necessary grants to cover its costs soon, it would be impossible to put on the festival.
Up to $200,000 is available for funding through the federal government for festivals that showcase local artists, artisans, Indigenous, Métis and Inuit culture and actively involve the local community. The deadline to apply for the Building Communities through Arts and Heritage — Local Festivals fund was Oct. 15 for festivals starting between July 1 and Aug. 31 the following year, meaning the opportunity to tap into that source of funding for the festival — held in July — has already passed.
Not able to rely on the Inuvik event to meet his business needs and wanting more independence, Buckle has spent the last few years investing in his own equipment.
To date he’s acquired some carving equipment and has constructed a small workshop, enabling him to carry on with his work.
But it’s slow going.
”I have managed to build the start of my shop and it requires completion,” he said. “I have 75 per cent of my tools. I still need a torch, polishing machine and air filter system and a Toyo stove for my shop for heat.
“I was hoping the festival would have set me, but I’ll keep trying to figure it out.”
Arguably Inuvik’s biggest festival, the Great Northern Arts Festival has been a regular part of Northern summers for over 30 years. It was named the Best Music Venue at the 2022 NWT Music Awards, one of the top 25 festivals in North America by Rand McNally Maps, one of the top 50 summertime events in Canada by the Globe and Mail newspaper and one of 400 of the world’s best destinations among all four seasons of travel by National Geographic Magazine. It hosts more than 80 artists, 40 performers and showcases in excess of 4,000 pieces of art each year.
Buckle said organizers could hopefully make up the gap with raffles, mega bingos and other fundraisers to collect the needed funds to run the festival.
“People are more than supportive of the arts,” he said. “The festival needs to be big again.
“There would be no lack of volunteers if a strategy is made, never have been for 30-plus years.”