Nunavut’s artists and centres deserve national standards

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In Nunavut, there is never enough money to go around. With the deep need for housing, health, education and basic social supports, governments rightly devote their attentions and as many dollars as possible on making progress on these fundamental concerns that affect all Nunavummiut.

With these at the forefront, the pot of money quickly becomes a spoonful remaining for the optional line items, specifically cultural and entertainment activities.

The recent Alianait festival, the first under its second ever executive director, reminds us of the value of core funding. Here we have a popular and impressive weekend of Inuit and circumpolar artists traveling to Nunavut to share their own culture while supporting Nunavut’s. Friendships and partnerships are made, and Nunavut’s brand spreads.

By letting people know that Inuit are here and that this is more than a land to be exploited for natural resources, we create an opportunity to impress our own stamp on the map of the North and of Canada. We need reasons for outsiders – industrialists and tourists alike – to invest their time and money here. Resources are one, culture is another.

Progress continues to be made – the multi-source funding of the Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop in Kinngait comes to mind – but there is plenty of work to do.

Good on Winnipeg for coming together to raise the money and support from all levels of government to build the $65 million Inuit Art Centre, but what do we need to do to bring the 8,000 Inuit artifacts – currently held at the adjoining Winnipeg Art Gallery – home to Nunavut? As Qikiqtani Inuit Association president PJ Akeeagok said in 2017, there is an urgent need for a Nunavut Heritage Centre under the Nunavut Agreement. The Government of Nunavut has spent and continues to spend millions to store these artifacts outside of the territory, and Nunavut remains the only jurisdiction without a heritage centre.

Meanwhile, Qaggiavuut starts its process to build a Qaggiq, Nunavut’s first performing arts hub, by taking the big step of a feasibility study that started last week. Such a facility is long overdue. While it’s fine to host major concerts at local schools, as is done for Alianait, we need to provide our performers with opportunities to hone their skills at a performance standard, available in many small towns across southern Canada. We hope governments will offer any assistance they can to bring this to fruition.

These are long-term goals. Where is the core funding today for the small museums and festivals across Nunavut that must look over their shoulders for the fiscal blade that will cut their operations? We all love new infrastructure, but there is little more galling than governments making an investment without a way to sustain the operations.

As citizens, we have great powers. One, we have the power to spend our own money to support the projects we feel bring value to our communities. Also, we have the power to use our voice to show the same support.

It’s an important time to exercise your options to bring attention to the deficits in our cultural infrastructure and operating budgets. Cultural activities may not bring big bucks to our region, but artists and artisans make up a large proportion of our population. Let’s help provide them with the economic opportunities they deserve, and which benefit the rest of the population by association.