Cel­e­brat­ing 30 Years of Sup­port­ing Inuit Artists

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - by Alysa Pro­cida

Re­flect­ing on its thirty-year his­tory, the Inuit Art Foun­da­tion has com­piled some of its most mem­o­rable and im­por­tant events in a lushly il­lus­trated time­line, with many never-be­fore-seen pho­to­graphs of artists drawn from our ar­chive.

Start­ing on June 3, 2017, the Inuit Art Foun­da­tion be­gan its 30th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions by an­nounc­ing a year-long cal­en­dar of pro­gram launches, events and a spe­cial is­sue of the Inuit Art Quar­terly that ce­ment the Foun­da­tion’s re­newed strate­gic pri­or­i­ties. Some­times called Ikayuk­tit (Helpers) in Inuk­tut, ev­ery­one who has worked here over the years has been un­fail­ingly com­mit­ted to help­ing Inuit artists ex­pand their artis­tic prac­tices, im­prove work­ing con­di­tions for artists in the North and help in­crease their vis­i­bil­ity around the globe. Though the Foun­da­tion’s ap­proach to achiev­ing these goals has changed over time, these cen­tral tenants have re­mained firm. The IAF formed in the late 1980s in a pe­riod of crit­i­cal tran­si­tion in the Inuit art world. The mar­ket had not yet fully re­cov­ered from the re­ces­sion sev­eral years ear­lier and artists and dis­trib­u­tors were strug­gling. The un­for­tu­nate clos­ing of San­dra Barz’s Arts and Cul­ture of the North af­ter 26 is­sues in 1984 was a par­tic­u­lar blow and left Inuit art en­thu­si­asts with few op­tions for in­for­ma­tion on the art form. At the same time, the Cana­dian Eskimo Arts Coun­cil (CEAC) was near­ing the end of its ten­ure as an ad­vi­sory body, pri­mar­ily know for ad­ju­di­cat­ing Inuit prints. In re­sponse, the Arts and Crafts Li­ai­son Com­mit­tee of the Department of In­dian Af­fairs and North­ern De­vel­op­ment (DIAND; now In­dige­nous and North­ern Af­fairs, or INAC) com­mis­sioned two stud­ies: one in 1984, at the re­quest of Cana­dian Arc­tic Pro­duc­ers by Roy MacSkim­ming on the fea­si­bil­ity of launch­ing an Inuit art news­let­ter and one in 1985, at the re­quest of Tut­tavik¹ by Mary­belle Mitchell (then My­ers) on the fea­si­bil­ity of an Inuit art-fo­cused foun­da­tion. In Oc­to­ber 1985, DIAND pro­vided $50,000 in seed money to the West Baf­fin Eskimo Co-op­er­a­tive’s trad­ing part­ner Kin­ngait Press to launch the Inuit Art Quar­terly (IAQ) in April 1986. The in­au­gu­ral is­sue’s suc­cess and clear im­por­tance re­sulted in fur­ther in­vest­ments to fa­cil­i­tate its pub­lish­ing. In or­der to sus­tain the IAQ and re­spond to the needs out­lined in Mitchell’s study, she and the in­au­gu­ral Edi­to­rial Board in­cor­po­rated the Inuit Art Foun­da­tion in 1987. With the clo­sure of the CEAC in 1989, the IAF be­came a core-funded or­ga­ni­za­tion with INAC and, its fu­ture now se­cure, be­gan to es­tab­lish strate­gic pri­or­i­ties. In the ini­tial years, these were pri­mar­ily around pro­mot­ing Inuit art to a south­ern au­di­ence. How­ever, a meet­ing of Inuit artists in Ot­tawa, ON, in 1990 proved to be a key turn­ing point in the IAF’s his­tory: af­ter this needs-based as­sess­ment, the IAF quickly be­gan ex­pand­ing its pro­gram­ming to in­clude ex­ten­sive pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment work­shops and pro­vid­ing “kick­start” grants for the pur­chas­ing of tools or as­sis­tance in ob­tain­ing quar­ry­ing stone through the newly-formed Inuit Artists’ Col­lege; train­ing Inuit in arts ad­min­is­tra­tion and cu­ra­tion through the Cul­tural In­dus­tries Train­ing Pro­gram, start­ing in 1995; and or­ga­niz­ing live events, ex­hi­bi­tions and artis­tic ex­changes to pro­vide a unique fo­rum for artists to meet, ex­change ideas and pro­mote them­selves. The IAF filled crit­i­cal gaps for Inuit through­out Canada: one of the first pro­gram­ming in­vest­ments the Foun­da­tion made was to can­vas artists through­out Nu­natsi­avut on their needs and or­ga­nize a carv­ing work­shop in Nain in re­sponse, which had long been ne­glected by the rest of the Inuit art world. Sim­i­larly, the IAF fo­cused on pro­vid­ing crit­i­cal health and safety train­ing for artists. The Sanan­guaqatiit comic book se­ries, as well as many ar­ti­cles in the Inuit Artist Sup­ple­ment to the IAQ fo­cused on en­sur­ing artists were no longer un­wit­tingly sac­ri­fic­ing their health for their ca­reers. Though sup­port­ing carvers was a key fo­cus of the IAF’s early pro­gram­ming, the scope of the IAF’s sup­port ex­tended to women’s sewing groups, print­mak­ers and many other dis­ci­plines. In 2000, the IAF or­ga­nized two artist res­i­den­cies for Nu­navik artists at Kin­ngait Stu­dios in Kin­nagit (Cape Dorset), NU, while the IAF show­cased Arc­tic fash­ions, film, per­for­mance and other me­dia at its first Qag­giq in 1995. The Foun­da­tion’s fo­cus shifted in the mid-2000s based on a large-scale sur­vey of 100 artists from across Inuit Nunan­gat, cou­pled with a fluc­tu­at­ing fund­ing land­scape that made such large-scale events and ex­ten­sive travel im­pos­si­ble. In­stead, the IAF fo­cused on in­vest­ing its re­sources into lever­ag­ing the emerg­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties af­forded by the in­ter­net to reach as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. The Inuit Artist’s Col­lege was suc­ceeded by the Na­tional Inuit Artists’ Col­lege, which pub­lished a wide va­ri­ety of artist re­sources on a cen­tral­ized web­site, and the IAF be­gan pro­duc­ing vir­tual ex­hi­bi­tions of Inuit art to en­sure the pub­lic’s ac­cess. Through it all, the IAQ con­tin­ued to be the only con­stant re­source for Inuit artists’ work and voices, as well as a site that nur­tured thought­ful crit­i­cism about the art form and cham­pi­oned new artists and me­dia. De­spite these im­por­tant ac­tiv­i­ties, the IAF’s un­sta­ble fund­ing had be­come un­ten­able enough that it an­nounced its un­ex­pected clo­sure on March 2, 2012. The blow was felt so pro­foundly among artists, col­lec­tors, cu­ra­tors, gal­lerists and other sup­port­ers that an emer­gency meet­ing of 31 stake­hold­ers was called on April 16 to dis­cuss op­tions for sav­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Thanks to the ex­traor­di­nary sup­port from the field, the IAF Board for­mally voted to re­sume op­er­a­tions in De­cem­ber of that year. Since then, the IAF has re­newed its fo­cus on ad­vo­cat­ing for the needs of artists through­out Inuit Nunan­gat and South­ern Canada, in­formed by an ex­ten­sive stake­holder con­sul­ta­tion tour. In ad­di­tion to the beloved IAQ, the IAF has also taken re­spon­si­bil­ity for ad­min­is­ter­ing the Igloo Tag Trade­mark to pro­vide mar­ket sup­port and pro­tec­tions for artists, as­sists with copy­right and is proud to launch its Inuit Artist Data­base, as well as run­ning the Vir­ginia J. Watt and Dorothy Still­well Award, Keno­juak Ashe­vak Memo­rial Fund and nu­mer­ous other pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment ac­tiv­i­ties. In re­search­ing our rich ar­chive in prepa­ra­tion for this is­sue, I have been con­tin­u­ally struck by how far-reach­ing, pro­found and per­sonal the Foun­da­tion’s pro­grams have been over the years. Here, we pro­vide a glimpse into some of the most ex­cit­ing, fun and sig­nif­i­cant mo­ments from the past. Al­though there is no way to en­cap­su­late the IAF’s true reach and im­pact in the space of a few pages, I hope you en­joy re­liv­ing these me­mories with us and look for­ward, as I do, to our next thirty years.

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