Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad

State of the arts

Jennifer Geens
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 07/05) - A meeting between artists and Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew discussing arts in the NWT was in danger of being drowned out by a basketball game.

NNSL photo/graphic

Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew addresses artists at a meeting in Yellowknife.

The only space available in Yellowknife that Saturday afternoon was the Sir John Franklin high school fitness room, perched over the gymnasium where the Cager basketball tournament was in progress.

The spacing problem underlined the artists' lament that, in the NWT, arts organizations feel like they're competing with sports for funding dollars - and losing.

Jan Fullerton, president of the Aurora Arts Society, said she hopes the territory can find a better balance.

"I don't want to take money from sports," she said.

"Money going to sports in the NWT is measured in the millions, where money going to the arts is measured in the hundreds of thousands. Arts can contribute much of the same benefits to people in the communities as sports."

In 2003-2004 fiscal year, the Sport North federation spent $3.9 million.

The same year, the NWT Arts Council's budget doubled to $280,000.

Sport North's major source of revenue is lottery money, making up nearly 75 per cent of its income. Sport North operates lotteries in the NWT and has sole access to that revenue.

Blondin-Andrew, minister of state for Northern Development, said artists shouldn't feel as if they're competing with sports, adding that she feels promoting sport is vital in the North "for the health of our people."

But Monique Aisbett, the art teacher at Chief Jimmy Bruneau school in Rae-Edzo and a former competitive swimmer, said both arts and sports promote health.

From her personal experience, she said creating art does some things sports can't, such as encouraging self-expression and providing an avenue for reflection.

"It's taking care of oneself spiritually," she said.

"You can stand alone and be okay, because you can do this."

Blondin-Andrew said she wants to see culture included in the Northern strategy.

"I want to see a strong arts and crafts component," she said. "I don't believe it's all about diamonds, or oil and gas."

But she also acknowledged that political will tends to be unstable when it comes to the arts.

"I don't want it to be something that when I leave, someone else can just get rid of it," she said.

Painter Antoine Mountain, originally from Fort Good Hope, told Blondin-Andrew the federal government needs to do more to promote NWT art.

"The emphasis is still on using the work of Nunavut artists to attract people," he said.

Though the quality of Nunavut work is high, he said, many good NWT artists are overlooked.

The lack of a territory-wide arts and crafts association - both the Yukon and Nunavut have their own associations - was one of the other problems the artists discussed.

Some artists are also aggravated by the fact that no venue in the territory will pay the CARFAC fee - a royalty the artists' union says should be paid when an artist's work is exhibited in a public space.

Grants were also on their minds, as the deadline for applying for NWT Arts Council contributions was days away.

Artist Diane Boudreau asked why there was only one source of arts funding in the NWT.