Yellowknife Co-op Brings Art School Plan Back to Drawing Board

After a hiatus of a few years, the Yellowknife Artist Co-operative (YAC) has resumed its work of establishing a school of apprenticeship in the arts.

For years, various artists and groups have worked towards establishing an arts center in the Northwest Territories, similar to the Banff Center for the Arts and Creativity or the Yukon Arts Centre, but so far none group did not succeed.

Matthew Grogono, president of the cooperative, said that after public engagement sessions and a feasibility study conducted in 2018, there simply weren’t enough resources to move forward with their initial plan for creation of an art center in the Hudson’s Bay Company building in Old Town.

“After much recognition and effort, we have concluded that, given the magnitude of what we have, undertaking the Hudson’s Bay Building restoration project was out of reach,” said Grogono.

They are now back to the consultation stage of the plan.

He said recently that the YAC project has sparked new interest from residents and a professor from the University of Calgary, which combined have fueled new energy in the group’s efforts.

“We, on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule, meet and discuss and strategize. We’ve come up with a general overall mandate of where we want to go,” Grogono said.

The next steps for the YAC are to apply for funding through the university to do an environmental and social overview of the arts community.

This would include discussions with other organizations, Indigenous leaders, and government departments to gain in-depth insight into what artists really want and need.

Grogono has been involved in the creation of an art center for more than 20 years, and he does not expect to see this new effort for an art center come to fruition quickly. But, he says, his end goal would be an arts center modeled after the Banff Center for the Arts and Creativity or the Yukon Arts Centre.

“I see a center for arts learning in the North that is able to energize and invigorate the arts community in a constructive and cohesive way and help bring appreciation and respect for the arts. This is a very important part of building a community.

The Coalition of Homestays and artists, including Terry Pamplin, have partnered with Makerspace YK to open an arts center in the former After 8 pub building. They hope to start offering programming in the summer. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Need to collaborate

However, another group with an arts center project already underway thinks the arts community should support an idea instead of working on separate plans.

The Foster Family Coalition and Yellowknife artists, including Terry Pamplin, have partnered with Makerspace YK to open an arts center in the former After 8 Pub building.

Pamplin has been an artist in the city for more than 40 years and, like Grogono, participated in the creation of an art center.

“We are currently working on ideas on how to run programs and hopefully by summer we will have launched initial programs to invite the public to artist exhibitions, workshops and a center for ‘welcome for people who just want to create anything,’ said Pamplin.

He also praised the city’s plan to relocate the visitor center and add a public art gallery to Center Square Mall, a location previously used by artists or organizations as studio and gallery space. .

“In one iteration or another, whether it’s just an open gallery or whether it’s a workshop space or studio space for artists to rent… I’ve worked on it every year since my arrival, and other people as well,” Pamplin said.

However, he believes the lack of community support from the wider artist community is part of the reason why the projects have yet to come to fruition.

“This Makerspace art space and the downtown visitor center gallery space, in my opinion, is where we should be focusing our efforts,” Pamplin said.

“They are the most promising and the ones with the most down to earth.

“Add that to what I call a supporting arts group in Yellowknife…and I think we can make it happen and it’s only going to get bigger from here.”

Kayleen C. Rice