More than 1,400 pieces from the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre’s art collection are now freely accessible online.
In a Tuesday news release, the NWT government said the portal was an effort to improve access to the museum’s collection of more than 75,000 objects. Only a fraction are ever on display at a given time.
The new, searchable website allows access to high-definition images of sculptures, paintings, prints and textiles from a wide variety of northerners. Examples include the late Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak, Baffin Island photographer Peter Pitseolak, and sculptor Osuitok Ipeelee.
The NWT government said it hopes the portal will “grow and evolve as new art is acquired.”
Yellowknife’s Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, and by extension its online art portal, are currently the closest thing the NWT has to a territorial art gallery.
Writing in 2021 for Galleries West magazine, Yellowknife-based artist and curator Sarah Swan said having a territorial non-commercial gallery would “stoke curiosity and facilitate appreciation.”
In the absence of one, Swan and other organizers have established the “Art Gallery of NWT,” a mobile art gallery that serves as part genuine community resource and part tongue-in-cheek protest.
MLAs have called for more resources to display art in the territory.
“Our need for arts infrastructure in the NWT is huge. Artists need physical and virtual spaces for creative development, collaboration, celebration, and sales, and I am concerned the GNWT is not taking this repetitive call to action from the arts community seriously,” Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland said last year.
While the GNWT launched a 2021-2023 arts strategy in August, on Tuesday it said the online art portal existed independently of that.
Though “not directly connected to the NWT arts strategy,” the territory stated, “this project supports the principles of the strategy to promote and celebrate NWT arts and artists.”
Cleveland has criticized that strategy, saying it lacks support for an independent arts council or increases to core funding, instead mostly offering project-specific funding.
In December last year, culture minister RJ Simpson stated there was “no plan to build a new public art gallery.” In the meantime, residents of the NWT can now take in the art from home.
The online collection “allows us to showcase the amazing works of art produced in the NWT and allows us to celebrate the artists who produced them,” Simpson said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Art is inseparable from history and culture, and making northern art more accessible territorially, nationally, and internationally will help promote the natural and cultural beauty of the NWT and its people.”