Pilot project brings elements of art school to Yellowknife

The Yellowknife Artist-Run Community Centre is preparing an art critique program next month to help local artists grow their practice.

The group, also known as YK ARCC, is running a pilot version of their ‘Tough Love’ Art Critique program over two nights on February 16 and 17. 

“It’s sort of like we’re trying to do a grassroots art school,” Sarah Swan, lead director of YK ARCC, told Cabin Radio. 


Swan said the program is currently at capacity with a total of 12 photographers, painters, drawers, and a tattoo artist planning to attend. Interested participants were asked to submit samples of their work with applicants chosen on a first-come, first-served basis.

Swan said YK ARCC was aware of a gap in higher education opportunities for artists in the territory. 

Sarah Swan, with the YK ARCC, prepares the gallery for visitors in Peace River Flats in May 2020.
Sarah Swan, with the YK ARCC, prepares the gallery for visitors in Peace River Flats in May 2020. Photo: Sarah Pruys

“It’s really upsetting to us at YK ARCC that there is no real care or no sense of how important art is at the government level, really,” she said, “and so we have sort of taken it into our own hands.

“Maybe in the future, we could pursue partnerships for an accredited program. But I don’t want to waste any more time. Let’s just start a grassroots program and offer this to artists so that they can grow and see where it takes us.”

Swan said while there are plenty of skill-based workshops available, “there’s nothing to help artists develop and grow the content of their work.”


“There’s a lot of members of our organization who have gone to art school and have really benefited from that experience,” Swan said. “We would like to offer that experience to artists in Yellowknife.” 

‘Cheerleading is really nice, but you really can’t grow’

The sessions will mirror an art school critique where participants must show their work without explaining it. 

“It gives everyone a chance to let the artwork speak for itself, and then we learn how to give constructive feedback,” Swan said.

“How is the art communicating? What’s it saying? And we have a discussion about some possible strengths and some possible weaknesses and areas for growth.”

Swan said she recognizes that process can be both affirming and scary.  

“That experience is actually very gruelling sometimes because you feel very, very vulnerable when you’re showing your work to an audience in the first place,” she said.

“We really hope that we can create a very supportive and safe space for dialogue around the participants’ artwork. You really can’t grow as an artist when all you’re getting is accolades. Cheerleading is really nice, but you really can’t grow.”

Swan said these first two critique nights are “an experiment” that the group hopes to use to gauge interest in future programming.  

“We have discussed the possibility of, and the great importance of, perhaps bringing in artists and community leaders from elsewhere in the territory,” Swan said.

“This is just our first stab at it to see what we can learn from this experience, and how we can keep going.”