Great Northern Arts Festival hopes small changes will bring big results

The changes to the 10-day arts festival include no longer charging admission to attendees, and opening up its gallery to sales on opening night.

For the 1st time, Inuvik festival no longer charging an admission fee

Mary Ann Villeneuve, executive director for the Great Northern Arts Society, says they're hoping the changes this year will be positive. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

The Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik, N.W.T., has made some changes to take advantage of the increase in tourists this year.

It's the 31st year for the 10-day annual festival that promotes northern arts and artists with workshops, music, fashion shows and more. In 2018, after years of struggles, organizers saw a boost in visitors, which they attributed to an increase of tourists flocking to the newly opened Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway.

So this year, they decided to take advantage of that.

In a new move, the festival opened up its gallery to sales for one hour during the opening ceremonies. In the past, people could only window shop. That idea brought in $7,000 in sales.

"We had a lineup in here, which is great because we had so many tourists come into town that night just for the opening of the festival," said Mary Ann Villeneuve, executive director for the Great Northern Arts Society.

We had so many tourists come into town that night just for the opening of the festival.- Mary Ann Villeneuve, executive director

She said they had realized last year that some visitors only come to town for one day, so they should optimize on that. 

"We do want to make some positive changes and I think this is one of them."

Fort Smith artist Michel Labine teaching an Inuvik resident how to make a coin purse at the Great Northern Arts Festival this year. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Villeneuve said another change is that, for the first time, they are no longer charging admission. Instead, they're asking for donations from attendees.

They're also considering changes to requirements for the artists. Currently artists must come to the festival for nine days, but some have found that too long.

Villeneuve said they might change that in the future so it "continues to make things positive and accessible to the artist."

Homecoming for artists

Of the 35 artists that came this year, about 10 are new to the festival, including Inuvialuit artist Pauline Gordon who now lives in Fort Smith.

One of the workshops she's holding is on fish scale art, which she first learned to do when she attended the festival about nine years ago.

"It's kind of an art that was dying for a while, and I now teach it in [Fort] Smith to adults and to young kids."

Gordon said it's been great coming back to her home region, because it's also a reunion.

"Up here is different, cause lots of family and lots of friends of family. So it's a different audience."

Artist Pauline Gordon, who now lives in Fort Smith, says it’s great coming back to her home region because it’s also a reunion. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Inuvik carver Maryanne Taylor is now at her 26th Great Northern Arts Festival; she was only 20 when she participated in the very first festival. She said despite the changes over the years, it's always a homecoming. 

Taylor is one of six carvers in her family who are artists at the festival this year.

"When I first came to the festival I was just learning," she said. "Coming back each year and meeting all of the artists that were here before, it's like coming home."

The annual fashion show is on Saturday. The festival wraps up on Sunday with final workshops, sales and closing ceremonies.


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