UPDATED 8:47 PM, Monday January 8, 2018 –– Organizers in Hay River and Fort Smith will “revisit” a plan to use unpaid performers at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games.

A call for artists to perform at the event asked for “Northern performers who are willing to perform at various locations throughout Hay River or Fort Smith” between March 18 and 24.

While billing the ability to perform during the Games as an “excellent opportunity to showcase your talents,” the same advertisement made clear that all performers would be unpaid. Those selected were also asked to make their own travel and accommodation arrangements without reimbursement.

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“Seriously?” Asked Greyson Gritt, one half of Juno award-winning duo Quantum Tangle, on Facebook.

“You have an arts community that is struggling to make a living, and you ask folks to play for exposure? No room in the budget for the arts? Why are we chronically forgotten in event planning?”

Marino Casebeer, a Yellowknife musician and event producer, added: “Do Hay River and Fort Smith businesses accept exposure vouchers?”

Marie Coderre, executive director at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre in Yellowknife, posted beneath an image of the original call for performers: “I can’t even read this.”

Addressing criticism through its official Facebook page later on Monday, the 2018 Arctic Winter Games host society said: “It was not our intention to be disrespectful to the arts community, but to enhance the experience for the athletes and visitors, with the support of artists and performers. We appreciate your feedback and will revisit this and respond with an update as soon as possible.”

Funding models

Requests for musicians to perform unpaid in return for people hearing their work have long been the target of venom from those in the industry, who view the practice as unfair and exploitative.

However, Arctic Winter Games organizers – who are trying, for the first time, to hold a major multi-sport event in two small Northwest Territories communities – face severe budget pressures. Alongside the Games’ cultural dimension, organizers must make arrangements for 19 sports across the two communities, including how to feed, move and accommodate thousands of athletes, officials and spectators.

Arts and sports in the Northwest Territories do not share a common funding model, with sports being the recipients of funding generated through lottery ticket sales. Artists have long perceived this to be fundamentally imbalanced, and Yellowknife artist Terry Pamplin reacted to the organizers’ notice by querying the amount of money various sports groups would receive to make the Games a success.

In initial documents, the South Slave team bidding to host the Games estimated it would cost almost $7.5 million.

Performers responding to this latest call would not be the only individuals working for free in March. Organizers hope an army of 1,500 volunteers will ensure events run smoothly; as of mid-December, 831 volunteers – just over half of the target – had signed up. Residents have been asked to open up their homes to house some volunteers, with accommodation in the two communities stretched to capacity.

A number of the organizers themselves, including the sport chairs responsible for the safe and effective running of each sport’s events, are also volunteers.

Arctic Winter Games hosts are mandated to offer a significant cultural program at each edition – shared every two years among Alaska, northern Canadian territories, northern Alberta, and Greenland.

This is not the first call for artists published by the current host society. In September, a call for visual artists offered $2,000 in return for the services of the selected individual.

“Exposure is a deceitful word in artist circles,” wrote Scott Clouthier, Hay-River based vice-president of the NWT Professional Media Association, beneath the latest call for performers.

“Simply calling it a volunteer opportunity would be a step in the right direction.”