With $500,000 from the federal government, Qaggiavuut is one step closer to fulfilling the dream of a performing arts centre in Nunavut.
“One of the arguments we have is that this would be very good for our economy, that there is a cultural tourism potential with the Qaggiq Hub. This is one way we can prove that there’s a market for Inuit performing arts,” said executive director Ellen Hamilton, about what Qaggiavuut is doing with the money.
The federal funding came by way of the Creative Export Canada Program, and the Qaggiavuut Nunavut Performing Arts Centre is one of 20 projects receiving a total of $7.8 million.
Hamilton explains the funding was specifically for work related to preparing its two shows, the much-lauded Kiviuq Returns and Arctic Song, for the world stage, including international marketing, promotion, and showcasing.
“The funding allowed us to hire approximately 42 Inuit artists, arts managers and technical artists to train as tour managers, actors, stage managers, video projectionists, photographers, musicians, singers, drum dancers and arts facilitators,” said Hamilton.
“It included training in Iqaluit and in Montreal at the National Theatre School of Canada and showcases to international festivals, theatres and showcases. It has also allowed us to develop video promotional materials.”
Hamilton adds that Qaggiavuut generated more than $1 million in the past year for Nunavut’s economy.
“In other words, we are strengthening the Nunavut economy through the arts, as much as we are strengthening language and culture,” she said.
That number can only increase with a professional space to call home. For now, Qaggiavuut operates out of a small house in the capital, holding rehearsals and courses wherever it can.
Project manager, performer and theatre technician Rico Manitok says just as tourists flock to Yellowknife, they would flock to Iqaluit.
“Yellowknife has the tourism with the northern lights, they could see the northern lights and a show here,” he said.
Qaggiavuut sparks international interest
“Between Kiviuq and Arctic Song, we’re starting to have a product that is providing really high-value employment for Inuit artists, promoting Inuit culture, but also Nunavut, to the world. By doing so we’re proving there is a market, and if we had a space here, people would come here,” said Hamilton.
Most recently, Qaggiavuut pitched Arctic Song in Montreal to international music festivals at the International Folk Alliance in mid-February. That yielded performances in Finland in June, Norway in July, France in August, Shanghai, China in September, as well as Indigenous music festivals in Canada.
Qaggiavuut performer and project manager Christine Tootoo and Vinnie Karetak will travel to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August to pitch Kiviuq Returns to theatres and theatre festivals from around the world.
“It’s the largest showcase for theatre in the world, and everyone looking for unique and interesting theatre is going to be there,” said Hamilton.
Tootoo is excited.
“But I’m a little bit nervous,” said the young performer.
“I’ll just have to rehearse.”
Meanwhile, project manager and artist Kathleen Merritt is currently coordinating all things Arctic Song.
The Qaggiq Hub is planned to also include teaching spaces, activities for children, a sewing space for seamstresses, and spaces for hunters and artists to sell their products – an all-inclusive traditional and professional hub.
“There would be events, activities, festivals, theatre runs going on all the time,” said Hamilton.
“Of course, there would be socio-economic benefits, as well. It costs $350 a day to keep a man in prison. The performing arts are one of the ways you reduce risk. It’s also a very effective way of educating people, keeping them motivated.”
Benefits across the territory
Qaggiavuut continues to tour Nunavut communities, creating workshops for young Inuit interested in the performing arts. The workshops are linked to its shows. Manitok offers an example of why developing the performing arts in the territory may be just as important as mining, which has lately been linked to higher graduation rates. Youth who had dropped out of school, went back to school.
“They saw that we were coming, and they wanted to be a part of the workshop,” Manitok said, adding they had to be in school to participate.
“There’s one that sticks out. When we were in one community, I had one youth come up to me and say, ‘When my friend committed suicide a month or two before …’ He wasn’t going to school. When he found out we were going to that community, he wanted to be a part of it.
“He seemed a bit rough, but when we started doing the workshops, he just brightened up. He was telling the younger kids, ‘Look, these people are here to teach you. Listen.’ And he kept going to school.”
Manitok has also come across youth who want to learn what he does – the technical side of performance.
“So I had them help me set up the projectors, the scrims, and all that stuff.”
Manitok, from Rankin Inlet, also points out his father and uncle worked at a mine.
“And I don’t see myself. I’m probably the first one in my family to do what I’m doing right now. They’re like, ‘Why don’t you just get a GN job?’ I like what I’m doing. I’m paid to do it,” said Manitok, who was, in fact, a GN employee for five or six years.
The performance hub would generate young Inuit professionals through an array of courses, some of which it already offers in partnership with other schools.
Hamilton says this past year, Qaggiavuut expanded its staff to six full-time employees, including five Inuit and herself, as well as 36 part-time Nunavut artists and technical artists.
Qaggiavuut hopes to begin a feasibility study in May to provide the necessary details on construction costs, design, operating, governance and funding.
“To date, through private donations, we have raised more than $200,000 – this from individual Canadians who support us. We are a charitable society and the funds are kept in a trust account until the feasibility study is underway,” said Hamilton.
The design for the Qaggiq Hub was provided by Diamond Schmitt Architects, the firm responsible for the National Arts Centre’s $110.5-million upgrade and several other high-profile, as well as community, art centres internationally, as a donation.
For a preview of Arctic Song, head to Qaggiavuut’s home at Building 411 in Iqaluit the evening of Friday, April 26. Admission is by donation.