The territory is teeming with artistic talent. But with a lack of non-commercial spaces to showcase Northern artists and craftspeople, a Yellowknife-based creative collective is taking a novel approach to exhibiting the work of oft-overlooked artists and their work: a gallery on wheels.
The brainchild of non-profit Yellowknife Artist-Run-Centreless-Centre (YK ARCC), the “Art Gallery of the NWT,” a cargo trailer-turned-mobile art space, will make its debut at the Old Town Ramble and Ride Festival on Aug. 3 and 4.
“We’re so excited that we can bring art to people, as opposed to waiting for them to come find us in a gallery somewhere. We can bring art to them wherever they’re gathered,” Sarah Swan, a YK ARCC board member behind the project, told News/North in a recent interview.
When the collective first formed in 2011, they called themselves the Yellowknife Artist-Run Community Centre. But in recent years, high rent rates have made holding onto a permanent gallery space unaffordable and unfeasible. Embracing its current nomadic status, the non-profit added the tongue in-cheek “Centreless-Centre” to its name.
“We are proud of our mobile gallery project,” stated Swan in a recent news release.
“But how sad is it that the only non-commercial gallery space we have is in a cargo trailer? It’s ridiculous.”
Swan told News/North that while there are plenty of great commercial galleries in the NWT and its capital, there’s an absence of spaces where arts and craftspeople can simply show their work, a “vital component to an artist’s life,” she said.
After the non-profit met to re-envision their goals in 2017, YK ARCC decided to narrow its focus to “exhibition” and “inclusivity,” said Swan – a shift in gears that became the driving force behind the art-mobile.
“It’s something that fits the quirky character of Yellowknife and the North,” said Swan.
While Swan and the non-profit hope to bring art to the beholder in places across Yellowknife – from the Farmers Market and the Multiplex to city schools – after Old Town Ramble and Ride, plans are underway to take the moving gallery to communities across the territory.
Swan said forming relationships with artists in NWT communities is important.
“We’re so disconnected,” said Swan. “The art communities in Fort Smith and Hay River and the art community in Yellowknife, for example. We don’t know each other too well, and it would be really nice to see what they’re up and for them to see what we’re up to.”
Once things get rolling, Swan envisions taking the gallery on wheels to Hay River’s Hay Days Festival or the Open Sky Festival in Fort Smith.
Linking with other communities would help to “cross-pollinate ideas and to get to know each other and connect,” she added.
The paintings of Yellowknife-based artist Michael Fatt, of Lutsel K’e, were the first showcased in the mobile gallery during Ramble and Ride
The trailer, which includes translations in all 11 of the NWT’s official languages on its exterior – thanks to the work of Anita Reiss – came together through the collective contributions of board members, volunteers, designers Wayne Guy and Peter Gillis, and Kasteel Construction. The project received funding from the City of Yellowknife, the NWT Arts Council and Canadian Heritage.
Swan said having non-commercial spaces are integral to budding artists as they allow more freedom and room for expression.
“Arts by their very nature need to try things. They need to take risks. They need to express the ugliness, the beauty and the pain in this world – and that is not necessarily the kind of art that’s marketable,” she said, adding there’s a “whole swath of artistic activity that isn’t getting a spotlight.
“And that’s really sad.”
Swan said it will take support from all levels of government to establish a permanent non-commercial gallery in the NWT.
“An art community cannot survive and grow and be taken seriously on the national scene, unless we have a professional exhibition space that’s staffed with directors and curators.”