Correction: A previous version of this story identified one of the artists who participated in the “WILD” art show as Wiley Rudkevitch. It was actually Wiley Wolfe. NNSL Media regrets the error.
Robyn Scott was thrilled to hold an art show again once pandemic restrictions were eased.
Along with fellow artists Wiley Wolfe and Carey Bray, she put together “WILD: A Northern Wildlife Art Show” in early May.
But the show wasn’t hosted by an art gallery, or the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre. Instead, the event was only able to go ahead thanks to the generosity of the Yellowknife Racquet Club.
That’s because, as Yellowknife’s artists have been saying for years, finding an affordable space to host an art show in the city is a challenge.
“The ones that were even remotely suitable would be areas like the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, but they don’t allow art sales,” says Scott. “The Explorer Hotel, while incredibly beautiful, and great to work with, was well over $1,000.”
“So I was starting to delve deep into things like school gymnasiums and murky bars, and that’s not the ideal situation, of course, for hanging, showing and displaying artwork.”
Scott points to the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse as a shining example of what communities can do to support their artists.
“They offer not only shows like you’d see it at NACC here, but they also have gallery display space, they have room for workshop facilitation,” she says.
“It’s frustrating to me that I feel like we’re still having the same conversation that I’ve been listening to for a decade,” says Scott. “I’ve been actively creating art for about 10 years. And so I’m disappointed that I’m still having this problem and still hearing this conversation with no movement on the part of the government.”
The artist community took another hit last year, when the Northern Images gallery closed its doors and moved entirely online, citing financial difficulties due to the pandemic. Archie Beaverho has been painting for more than five decades, and often serves as a mentor for younger Tlicho artists. He says he used to be able to sell his work quickly to the gallery. Ever since it closed, he’s mostly been selling his work on social media, but “it’s very slow to sell on the internet,” he says. “It seems like you should have a big gallery in Yellowknife,” he says. “It’s a capital in the North.”
Although Yellowknife’s artists have long struggled to find adequate show space, Makerspace may have at least a partial solution. The facility, which held its soft opening on June 3, offers space and tools to entrepreneurs and creatives to develop their skills, including a 1,000-square-foot room for displaying artwork.
“We’re keeping an entire wall blank so artists can display their work,” says Makerspace president Cat McGurk.
Although the facility had its soft opening last week, no date has yet been set for when it will open to the public. However, McGurk says the site has already generated interest from the local artist community, especially as a space to host workshops.
Scott is optimistic about the prospect of displaying her work there, but she says the new facility is only a partial solution.
“This is run by volunteers, and with the transient nature of the North, what happens when these folks move on? Once again, we’re going to have another struggling board and a struggling space and have to start over again from scratch — and that leaves me pretty disheartened.”