A new Yellowknife arts and culture master plan calls for dedicated arts space, a city artist in residence and a full-time arts and culture development officer.
Consulting firm Nordicity spent much of 2022 surveying residents and interviewing members of the industrial community before creating the document.
The plan was adopted by the City Council this week, though that doesn’t mean everything in it will happen.
Nordcity’s Megan Lynch told councilors Yellowknife’s art scene is challenged by a “lack of formal creative spaces”, a lack of dedicated funding and a heavy reliance on volunteers.
“But with these challenges, we see opportunities for real, strong municipal leadership to collaborate with the region to bring together the arts, cultural tourism, and how arts and culture can facilitate community connections,” Lynch said.
The plan calls for recruiting more Indigenous candidates for public service, establishing dedicated art spaces and, eventually, formalizing a city artist-in-residence program.
The plan outlines the need for an arts and culture development officer at City Hall.
Lynch said the role will be the main point of contact for artists who need guidance, resources and professional development opportunities. The officer will run an online arts and culture hub where artists can find contact lists, funding opportunities and guidance to help them apply.
Sarah Swan, director of the Yellowknife Artist-Run Community Center, noted that community surveys and interviews in Nordcity have shown that many artists, including visual artists and musicians, feel disconnected from others in their communities.
Swann said the proposed addition of an arts officer would help address this and was the plan’s most exciting recommendation.
“Creating a position like this will ensure that the rest of the strategy can be implemented and real change can happen,” he told Cabin Radio.
“Unless someone tends the garden, the garden will produce nothing.”
More: Read Nordicity’s plan and report (p4-51)
Artist Terry Pamlin said a full-time arts officer would become “a go-to person who gets to know different artists in the city.”
He hopes that such a position will make applying for project funding a smoother process.
“If I make an application to the city, I’ll ask for two letters of reference and what not, and you need a little corporate history,” he said.
“With this new position, I could hopefully go in and say, ‘Here’s my project,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, that’s great Terry, you always responded, you always reported, you always finished whatever the project was. ,’ and we can move on.
“It’s going to be really encouraging for artists in the city, because right now it feels like every time you go to them, you’re a complete stranger.”
Referring to Yellowknife’s new visitor center art gallery, Swann also believes a city hall arts officer would be “someone who can take an invested interest and ownership of the new gallery space.”
“Right now, there’s a big question mark over it,” he said. “This will help keep it regulated and running properly.”
Designation of dedicated industrial space
The master plan proposes that artist-run galleries, rented to members of the arts community for a subsidized price, could be created in locations such as Center Square Mall, the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool and the Hudson’s Bay Heritage Building.
The gallery in the visitor center is currently the only non-commercial space in the city. Commercial galleries include Gallery on 47, Down to Earth Gallery and Gallery of the Midnight Sun.
A gallery that’s city-owned but artist-run could bring more tourism to Yellowknife, Pamlin said.
“The gallery at the visitor center is a great start and will go a long way towards promoting the city,” he told Cabin Radio. “But having a larger commercial space run by artists will allow more artists to show their work.”
The need for space was heavily underlined in Lynch’s report.
City councilor Cynthia Mufandeza told Lynch: “This is what the city needs – a small, centralized location where people can come and get information and understand where they need to be.
“There’s a lot of art and culture in the city, but it’s different organizations that have had a hard time coming together.”
An artist-in-residency program, meanwhile, could help the city gain international recognition, Pamlin said.
“It’s an invitation for outside artists to come in and possibly be funded, either privately or through a Canada Council grant or subsidized by the city,” he said.
“Bring them in, give them a studio space and living space and let them do their art and share what they’re doing with our artists.”
Pamlin said initiatives like this have the potential to evolve into a program that could one day be the equivalent of the Banff Center for the Arts, allowing artists to grow locally, nationally and internationally.
Art resurgence in Yellowknife
Yellowknife artist Adrienne Cartwright said a plan like this was long overdue.
“We’re at a point where we have the right people in the right place at the right time,” he told Cabin Radio.
“We have people in our arts community right now who are bringing fresh, new ideas and new perspectives to Yellowknife, those of us who have been here a long time and have experienced what works and what doesn’t.
“When Covid shuts everything down, it gives many people and organizations some breathing space to reflect and prioritize. Now that things are starting up again, there’s some new energy and some more focused energy, and hopefully we can keep the momentum going as we enter an exciting new phase for the industry in Yellowknife.”
Pamlin says she feels “more optimistic than ever.”
“You need an ongoing commitment,” he said of the plan, “and I feel optimistic that this can happen.”
Councilor Julian Morse raised that issue as the council adopted the plan.
“My primary concern, really, is around this plan being adopted by the council but then mostly – or at least partially – put on hold,” he said.
“Certainly, I’ve seen that happen with many of the plans we take on. Or if they’re not removed, it’s a very slow process of implementing them.”
Kerry Thistle, the city’s director of economic development, said staff will need time to make recommendations, assess workloads and allocate budgets.
Councilor Shauna Morgan said she hoped the incoming council would prioritize the plan’s action items when approving the municipality’s 2023 budget after the October election.
Mayor Rebecca Alty agreed.
“Money is always tight,” Alty said, but he added that regional and federal funding, combined with the city’s grant-writing position, could mean Yellowknife “can tap into other resources to implement some of the steps in this plan.”
At Monday’s city council meeting, councilors voted to include the arts officer position in the 2023 draft budget.
That draft will be reviewed by the new council in December.