After 'overwhelming' response, N.W.T. finds more money for northern artists

A pandemic economic recovery fund for creatives in the N.W.T. has found more money to support northern artists.

109 projects were approved from the new pandemic economic recovery fund after transparency complaint

Patrick Jacobson says he is happy the N.W.T. government found more funding for northern artists trying to navigate the creative landscape during COVID-19. (Emily Sheff)

Another $86,873 has been added to an N.W.T. fund for artists in the territory during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the department overseeing the money.

The territorial government's Creative Industries Economic Recovery Funding was originally slated to give out a total of $250,000 to artists, filmmakers and art organizations across the territory — helping them resume or redefine their professional activities in the wake of the pandemic. 

The territorial government will now award a total of $336,873 to artists in the territory through the recovery fund.

Drew Williams, a spokesperson for the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, told CBC late Thursday that the department had found additional money to support projects that met "the spirit and intent" of the fund. 

At the end of the day, 109 projects were accepted, and 31 were declined.

The increase comes after a complaint that the territorial government's emergency money for artists didn't go far enough and was handled opaquely.

Only a few days prior, on Monday, that an internal email to a grant applicant, Patrick Jacobson, said that the response from the territory had been "overwhelming" and that it reviewed "twice the number of applications that could be approved." 

But it's still welcome news to Jacobson, an indie-rock musician. He had called out NWT Arts, a government-run program promoting artists in the territory, after two of his projects were turned down.

He learned late Thursday he had ultimately been approved.

A chance to 'turn this year around'

After Jacobson had his hours cut at an airline due to COVID-19, he figured this was the perfect time to focus on his artistic career. So when he heard that the Northwest Territories government was giving out emergency money to artists impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, he applied to record five new original songs. 

After the email from NWT Arts on June 15 telling him his project didn't make the cut, Jacobson told CBC he didn't feel those funds had been doled out transparently. 

"When I was denied, I asked why, and they sent me a separate list of criteria that wasn't on the original guidelines," he said. 

This application felt like a last opportunity to turn this year around and make something good out of it.- Patrick Jacobson, N.W.T. musician

CBC has reviewed several emails between NWT Arts and Jacobson, who has made seven full-length albums and whose music has been featured on the HBO drama The L-Word

"I have to admit, it's starting to feel a little personal," wrote Jacobson in one. "This application felt like a last opportunity to turn this year around and make something good out of it."

Jacobson also proposed an online concert series with his promotions company YK Rocks, which was also declined. 

In one email, a programming assistant with the agency wrote that applications were reviewed on the following criteria: 

  • A full creative project, not contingent on other funding.
  • The artist's main income was from creative pursuits and the artist has no other income.
  • The "amount of northern spend."

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment declined to comment on Jacobson's particular situation, but said those priorities are consistent with other recovery programs they run.

But not all the artists who have been funded fit that mould exactly. 

Robyn Scott, a Yellowknife artist and teacher, was part of the first round of artists to receive a grant from the territorial government. (Katie Toth/CBC)

Robyn Scott, a visual artist and teacher in Yellowknife, was part of the first round of artists to receive a grant for a new series of paintings. She told CBC she bought her art supplies from a vendor in Alberta, and that if she gets additional grant funding in the fall, she will be getting her work professionally photographed by a Yellowknife photographer. 

"I'm very grateful," she said.

Scott said that she's "elated" that her northern-themed art series, putting wild animals in urban environments, made the cut — she's a teacher, not a full-time artist. But she's not really sure what made her work stand out.

"I just kind of blindly hoped it was what they were looking for," she said.

Drew Williams wrote the extra funding the department found allowed it to "broaden our matrix for evaluating these proposals — and some projects that were originally declined were revisited."

According to Marie Coderre, executive director with the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre, there's a learning opportunity here for the territorial government. Her organization has been in talks with the N.W.T. government about how it can make its emergency funding better.

One of the main comments she hears from artists is that right now, they also need relief to let them keep working on their existing projects — not only seed money to start something new.

"The funder needs to consult the group and figure out what their needs are first," she said. "I think the government is learning about this pandemic as well."


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