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photo credit: jo o'hara
photo credit: jo o’hara

We contacted 36 organizations/communities by internet and telephone and had conversations with 29 people from these various sources. We found 12 community arts programs and centres that provide arts access. We found 5 community arts, outreach and educational resources. We have a secondary research list to follow-up on with over 200 sources.

Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon, had the majority of community arts programs, projects, organizations and resources that we found. However, outside of Whitehorse, there are some amazing ones! In Dawson, we talked to Cynthia Hunt, an artist and resident for over 20 years. She told us about the Klondike Institute of Art & Culture (KIAC), where she participated on committees and attended courses. Cynthia said that before KIAC, there was little access to arts in town. She said that once it was established, “you can’t imagine the difference it made. It gave people a way to access both top musical talent and visual arts without having to leave their community.” The centre created an artistic and creative hub that brought people together. Tara Rudnickas, the KIAC Programs Manager, said that their programs “are very accessible.” They offer affordable arts programs and workshops, drop-in studio time, Seniors’ Painting program, Art Camp (for youth), scholarships, the Youth Art Enrichment program, exhibition space, the Yukon Riverside Arts Festival and a chance to submit a film into the Dawson City International Short Film Festival.

Cynthia also told us about Dawson’s SOVA (School of Visual Arts) that offers many opportunities for artists including a foundation program in visual arts. She said that: “the arts not only inspired local artists but brought in new residents who were excited to be in this vibrant place.”

Another town where art has brought people together is Faro (population: 400), where they have the Anvil Range Arts Society (ARAS). ARAS began as a small group of painters in 2001 and evolved into a “non-profit arts organization promoting and supporting local artists and craftspeople.” (ARAS website) We spoke with Marlene Crellin, the Society’s treasurer, who proudly told us that this year, they were given space for a gallery in the old Legion. Arts courses and workshops are for free or for $5. She said that this growing artistic community helps people who otherwise don’t have a chance to make art.

We learned about a great new dance ensemble in Carcross that performs and tours, called the First People’s Performances (a.k.a. the Dakká Kwáan Dancers). Youth and adults are part of this troupe and participants join for free. The troupe’s mainpage states “our main focus is to bring opportunity of cultural revitalization and social transformation within our community by reclaiming our traditional values through song and dance. As a group we find immense strength and empowerment that provides a solid foundation and sense of dignity to us.” We spoke with founder Marilyn Jensen who told us that the dance has brought back pride for native culture in the community. She said it has also brought self-esteem, a sense of success and that the process is healing and very moving.

We found a Canada Council report that stated “in 2001, the highest concentration of Aboriginal artists occurs in Canada’s three territories.” We found that there are small First Nations communities like Old Crow, a fly-in community with a population of about 250 people, that don’t have an expressed need for organized art collectives or classes (although they do offer occasional crafts workshops out of their recreation centre). We spoke with recreation coordinators there who explained that communities like theirs have individual artists who work out of their homes. They order art supplies through the general store. Teachings of art are passed down by Elders. They sell their work through the Visitors Centre, First Nations Councils, on their own or all of the above. Old Crow is a good example of a strong artistic community.

Back in Whitehorse, we found out about the Sundog Retreat Carving Program at SunDog Carving Studio & Gallery that has worked with more than forty (primarily) First Nations youth since 2004. They also run the Carving Our Path project and The Journey Far project where youth learn how to carve and produce work. It is free for the youth and there are waiting lists to get into these great programs. Their website states: “Powerful changes have taken place as the young artists use their new carving skills to move out of a cycle of physical abuse, emotional neglect, justice system involvement, substance abuse and multi-generational effects of residential school. Many participants have not experienced success in a traditional classroom or workplace, but demonstrate noticeable improvements in their outlook and self-esteem. […] The carvers’ art has been sold locally, nationally and internationally.” Their First Nations Art Education project is “an opportunity for emerging artists to be hired as instructors to help Yukon First Nation students in the public school system build on their talents early and stay engaged in school.”

Another arts program that works in schools is Artists in the School. It runs several programs and projects such as the After School Program, the School Touring Program and Yukon Arts Ed-Venture to provide children with access to art and art-making. We learned a lot from Rhoda Merkel, an accomplished First Nations artist, who coordinates the Yukon Arts Ed-Venture where they integrate arts into the core school curriculum by bringing in professional artists to teach. (Rhoda considers the Yukon in general, especially Whitehorse, to be the art mecca of Canada!) All of Whitehorse’s elementary schools as well as those in Carcross, Teslin, Carmacks and Haines Junction have been involved. We find programs and organizations like Artists in the School, ArtsSmarts (National), ArtStarts (Vancouver) and Learning Through The Arts (National) to be providing amazing arts education in schools throughout the country that have limited access to art-making.

The Yukon Arts Centre (YAC) responded to the lack of arts education in Whitehorse’s public schools, where according to a Canada Council article, “Over the past 10 years, many of the art programs in the Yukon’s public schools have been reduced or eliminated altogether. Some schools no longer even have an art teacher.” A couple of things that they did through the Classroom Connections initiative were: provide a “fund for school bus visits to bring in students from isolated schools” as well as conduct professional development to train teachers in the arts. As the main art gallery in the Yukon, YAC has a number of inclusive and accessible programs such as the Yukon Arts Centre Public Art Gallery, the Community Gallery, free family art classes and arts education for children through Kidz Art. Gallery admission is based on donations. “The Yukon Arts Centre works closely with community arts organizations, groups and artists for the development of the arts and of a cultural economy in the Yukon.” (YAC)

We had a great conversation with Patti Flather, Artistic Director of Gwaandak Theatre Society in Whitehorse. Gwaandak “helps empower women with intellectual and physical disabilities; theatre artists will express their voices, develop and perform new theatrical works in the mainstream community.” (United Way) This unique company is the only one that Patti could think of that is providing these amazing theatre opportunities for participants with varying abilities in the Yukon. Gwaandak partners with the Yukon Association for Community Living, which actively seeks arts opportunities for people with disabilities.

We learned about a few more arts organizations that are based in the Whitehorse area. Bringing Youth Towards Equality (BYTE) offers art-specific workshops. It is a “youth-directed and youth-focused organization that delivers a variety of skill building activities and workshops for youth in Whitehorse and in the rural Yukon communities.” The Youth of Today Society offers mural-making as a strong component of their employment training for at-risk youth. They also have a program called Arternative View that offers art workshops led by qualified instructors; participants can also exhibit their artwork. Skookum Jim Friendship Centre has art interwoven into all of their programs. We learned about a great writers scholarship and mentorship program for youth called the Yukon Young Authors Conference.

There are a lot of festivals going on in the Yukon throughout the year. We found some great arts-related that are worth mentioning. They include the Yukon International Storytelling Festival in Whitehorse, the Dawson Music Festival and the Ha Kus Teyea Celebration in Teslin.

After we had finished our preliminary mapping of the Yukon, we received extensive notes on “Art Activities in Yukon Communities” compiled by Garnet Muething, a Fund Administrator with the Yukon Government (Arts Section, Cultural Service Branch) which opened our eyes to so many more community arts projects across the territory.

Summary by Seanna Connell & Lisa Tran, Summer 2009