2015 Arctic Inspiration Prize finalists vie for $1M

From supporting the Northern arts scene to improving access to education for the hearing impaired, three diverse projects are looking to take this year's Arctic Inspiration Prize.

Ambitious projects look to improve Arctic life through support for the arts, recreation and education

'We all know that there are hearing issues up there and we are hoping with this project to have a real impact,' says Lynn McCurdy, who is leading the Better Hearing in Education for Northern Youth project. (submitted by Wellington Hearing Care)

Three teams are hoping their "rather ambitious" projects will take home the Arctic Inspiration Prize — and, with it, up to $1 million. 

The massive annual prize is sponsored by Arnold Witzig and Sima Sharifi, a pair of immigrants who say they want to help their adoptive home tackle the major challenges it faces in the North. 

"We're excited," said Lynne McCurdy, who leads Better Hearing in Education for Northern Youth. 

"We've had many other financial supporters as well, but this would be huge."

Each of this year's finalists would benefit a different aspect of northern life, from connecting artists to improving support for children who are hearing impaired. One of the projects could take home the entire $1 millon, or it could be split among them.

McCurdy, an audiologist from Guelph, Ont., said if her project is chosen, amplification systems will be installed in every school in each of the 13 communities in Nunavut's Qikiqtaaluk region to help children with hearing problems. 
Ellen Hamilton, second from left, is the team leader of Qaggiq, which aims to connect artists from across the circumpolar world. This photo shows the team behind Uvanga, a feature film produced in Nunavut. (Arnait Video/Twitter)

There is a high rate of hearing loss among Inuit children, where ear infections go undiagnosed and few Northern communities have audiologists.

"It's one of those things that people don't talk about a lot," she said.

"But we all know that there are hearing issues up there and we are hoping with this project to have a real impact, a real positive impact for the kids up there."

The project's description says hearing problems contribute to systemic issues in the North, including low graduation rates.

"We're setting up a whole infrastructure of support," McCurdy said. 

"We hope if this is successful and if we have other people interested, that we can do similar [projects] throughout the Arctic region or throughout the North. [That would] be the ultimate goal."

Reaching east-west, rather than north-south

For Ellen Hamilton, finding out that her dream project could soon be a reality, was a "great feeling."

She said Qaggiq: Nurturing the Arctic Performing Arts is "a rather ambitious project" to connect circumpolar artists from coast to coast, to create mentorships, collaborations and teaching opportunities. 

"Performance artists in many Northern communities are often very isolated," said Hamilton, who is a leader in Iqaluit's arts community. 

"We felt it was very important to reach east-west, as opposed to north-south."

She said there are also a number of artists on board for the project, including Nunavik's Beatrice Deer, two Order of Canada recipients, and a dance troupe in Yellowknife. 

Art, said Hamilton, is "one of the strongest ways we as human beings communicate" and it's also an important way to preserve aboriginal culture. 

"There are a number of performing arts forms that are at risk of being lost and unless they are taught and maintained they will be gone forever. 

"We want to train Northern performers to be teachers of art."

This project will only go ahead with the financial support of the Arctic Inspiration Prize, said Hamilton. 

Building skills

The last finalist is a project based in Whitehorse, but pan-territorial in scope.

Olympic cyclist Zach Bell nominated the Tri-Territorial Recreation Training project, which would help train people who deliver recreation programs in the North. 

The group says the training would empower Northerners and their communities. 

Since 2012, the Arctic Inspiration Prize has awarded $3 million to eight different teams. Last year the prize went to FOXY, or Fostering Open eXpression among Youth, which is a sexual health and leadership education program for young women in the Northwest Territories.

The 2015 winner or winners will be announced at the Northern Lights Conference on Jan. 27, 2016. 

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