Support from northerners like you keeps our journalism alive. Sign up here.



Inuvik’s summer arts fest is clothed in culture

Two participants at the 2016 Great Northern Arts Festival share a laugh
Two participants at the 2016 Great Northern Arts Festival share a laugh. Great Northern Arts Festival/Facebook

With 31 years under its belt, Inuvik’s Great Northern Arts Festival is showcasing the traditional and modern iterations of Inuvialuit, Gwich’in, and northern art.

The festival runs until Sunday at the Midnight Sun Complex with entrance by donation to a gallery, workshops, and an area where artists are working their craft.

Executive director Mary Ann Villeneuve says the festival’s theme this year – “clothed in culture” – is about the endurance of traditional art, jewelry, and clothing, and how it is influenced by a modernizing world.

“Presently we’re living in a world of new technology. We are living those things daily and we are seeing the changes in what’s being produced by artists and crafters,” said Villeneuve – pointing to the example of cell phone pop sockets decorated with traditional art.



Villeneuve says she is also seeing new items introduced into jewelry, including African porcupine quills, Delica beads, and more polar bear fur than in the past.

Erica Lugt’s earrings are an example. Made of Delica and 24-karat gold beads, alongside polar bear fur harvested outside of Tuktoyaktuk, the pair fetched $500 at auction during a festival fundraiser.

Art from the Inuvik region is also being recognized internationally, Villeneuve pointed out, with Gwich’in artist Tania Larsson being featured in British Vogue’s May edition.



Adapting to new technology doesn’t mean abandoning tradition, she said, as life on the land still forms the backbone of the work of NWT artists.

“Also when I think about ‘clothed in culture,’ I think about the past, when our people lived completely on the land and how everything was used of that animal – the bone, the hide, the sinew – everything off the land. The berries for colour and dyes,” Villeneuve said.

The Great Northern Arts Festival runs until Sunday at the Midnight Sun Complex. Entrance is by donation for the first time in the festival’s history.

Visitors will see artists from the northern territories, and some from down south, at work beading, sewing, carving, making jewelry, and producing stained glass.

There is also a carving tent for a drop-in workshop with a carving artist.

Entertainment and workshops are happening all week, including Yellowknife’s Priscilla’s Revenge playing on Tuesday night and an Arctic fashion show on Saturday night.