One-of-a-Kind Event Celebrates Art And Culture In Inuvik
Located on the edge of the Mackenzie River Delta in the northwest corner of the Northwest Territories, Inuvik is a beautiful place of contrasts. It sits north of the Arctic Circle between mountain and tundra, among the northernmost stretches of the boreal forest. For weeks, Inuvik does not see the sun — and then for weeks, the sun never sets.
It is here, in this close-knit community of 3,400 residents, that North America’s longest running festival of Arctic art and music was born. Every year in July, under the midnight sun, the Great Northern Arts Festival takes over the town for 10 days, with artists, performers, musicians and tourists coming together to celebrate Arctic culture.
It is a one-of-a-kind event that includes artists from the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Nunavut. There are daily demonstrations — everything from birch bark basketry to traditional boat building — and daily performances on the mainstage. More than 100 artists and performers come to participate in this incredible festival that celebrates the diversity and creativity of Canada’s Arctic, including members of the Inuit, Inuvialuit, Gwich’in, Dene and Metis communities. No where else in the world will you find such an event.
How to get to Inuvik
Visitors arrive in Inuvik by air and road.
Inuvik is connected to the Yukon by the famous Dempster Highway, a 740-km road that crosses the Arctic Circle as it stretches from Dawson City in the Yukon to Inuvik.
Inuvik is also the beginning of a new highway that leads up to the northern community of Tuktoyaktuk on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. It has become a popular extension of the Dempster Highway road trip.
Of course the quickest way to reach Inuvik is by air. Fly time from Yellowknife to Inuvik is approximately 2 hours. In contrast, as there is no direct road access between the Territorial capital of Yellowknife and Inuvik, it would take 37 hours to drive the between the two communities — dipping down through British Columbia, up to the Yukon and then finally along the Dempster Highway.
Q & A with Dieter Weise, Executive Director of the Great Northern Arts Festival.
Landsby asked Dieter Weise, this year’s Executive Director of the festival, about the festival’s origins and what visitors can expect when they attend. His answers are below.
How did the Great Northern Arts Festival begin?
The Arts Festival started in 1989, founded by Sharlene Alexander and Sue Rose. They realized that the communities in this region were full of talented artists but that these artists never had the chance to actually see their art getting exhibited in a gallery — they’d just mail their work to the south and that would be the end of it. So that year, they organized a little show in Inuvik for about 20 artists, who flew here and put on an exhibition. Now, the Festival has grown a lot since then, but this remains the point — for artists from this region and now from the Central and Eastern Arctic too, to have the chance to get together, exhibit their work to an audience of international visitors and to have a week in an artist residency where they can create new work and earn some income from selling it.
What makes this festival such a huge success each year?
The artists and performers make it a success. They create astonishing new work in front of your eyes for ten days. As far as organizing the ten days, behind the scenes we have volunteers, returning staff and sponsors like Canadian North who all make it so that the artists can be here to astonish us.
What can visitors expect to see & experience when they attend the festival?
One thing worth emphasizing is that when you visit, you have the chance to take workshops with your favourite artists. You get to learn how to make something with someone, using a material you might not have worked with before — whether it’s soapstone or spruce root or goose feet. And you get to take it home with you. The kindness and willingness of the artists to share their knowledge is the most remarkable thing about the Festival. And the evening performances are exciting. Traditional drum dancers perform and, on the last night every year, we have the eagerly anticipated Arctic Fashion Show.
For those who’ve never been to Inuvik, how would you describe the community?
Inuvik is a little, close-knit Arctic community on the east channel of the Mackenzie River between the Richardson Mountains and the tundra. It’s the northernmost region in North America where the boreal forest grows and serves as the administrative capital of the Western Arctic. The town is part of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and the Gwich’in Settlement Area. Inuvialuit and Gwich’in make up the majority of the population and spend a lot of time practicing their traditional cultures. Inuvik has a big church shaped like an igloo and also has North America’s most northerly mosque.
The Great Northern Arts Festival runs between July 8 – July 17, 2022. Visit the Festival site in the coming weeks for full details on this year’s line up of artists and performers.