Feedback at open forum slams N.W.T. Arts Strategy

“Thin as a Kleenex” was feedback given on the N.W.T. Arts Strategy at a public hearing Thursday morning.

“When you strip away the introduction from the minister and the appendix, it is a very thin five pages,” continued Sarah Swan, director with the Yellowknife Artist Run Community Centre, who spoke in front of a territorial standing committee at the Legislative Assembly Thursday.

The 10-year N.W.T. Arts Strategy was released in the summer of 2021 as a joint initiative between the Department of Education, Culture and Employment and the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment to serve as a guide for the territorial government on how to better support the arts sector.

But it falls short, MLAs heard at the public hearing as local art advocates Swan and Ben Nind shared their critiques of the strategy.

“Overall it reads as a permission slip for the [Government of the N.W.T.] to keep on keeping on not changing much,” Swan said.

Strategy ‘unfocused’

There have long been calls for more support for arts and artists in the Northwest Territories

Since last fall, Yellowknife’s visitor centre moved to a new location that now has a non-commercial gallery space. The Friends of the Northwest Territories Art Gallery is also working to develop an N.W.T. Arts Centre. But the territorial government wanted to ask if it was doing enough to support artists’ needs to grow and develop.

Ben Nind, a former executive director of the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre, called the strategy “unfocused” and said it needs to be reworked to serve the needs of the creative community in a “real and possible manner.”

“Otherwise it remains too broad, too self-serving for the departments responsible and too weak to implement and measure progress,” Nind wrote in his submission. 

Suggestions also offered

While both speakers critiqued the strategy, they also offered suggestions on how to make it better.

Nind suggested the second goal of the strategic plan, “Strengthen education, engagement and leadership,” be expanded on as each three things alone could be its own whole strategic plan.

“I remind the committee that the greatest resource in the North is its people and its greatest renewable resource is the individual’s imagination and drive,” Nind wrote in his submission.

“If you supported the exploration of imagination as you do the exploration of diamonds and gold and lithium then you support possibilities that have unlimited potential.”

Meanwhile Swan shared three diagrams: the first of how the arts world looks in Canada, the second how the N.W.T arts world is at present, and the third how the N.W.T. arts world would “ideally” look. 

Lines and circles on a page.
A diagram presented to MLAs to illustrate what the N.W.T. arts world could look like. (Submitted by Sarah Swan)

Swan suggested merging the academic and traditional Indigenous arts knowledge together in an N.W.T. Arts Centre that hosts galleries, creation space, artists residencies and mentorships. 

Creating such a space would professionalize territorial artists while attracting artists to the North and developing relationships with other arts centres in Canada, Swan shared in her presentation.

At the end, the MLAs thanked the presenters for sharing their thoughts.

Feedback to be taken into consideration

But what now after the hour-and-a-half-long feedback meeting?

The MLAs who attended, a combination of members from the social development committee and the economic development committee, are taking the feedback into consideration and will make decisions on any next steps they wish to take, a spokesperson with the Legislative Assembly explained in an email.

Some examples of actions include bringing forward motions in the house, writing a report with recommendation, bringing forward a private members bill or negotiating for funding changes during budget consideration.

When the strategy was released, the government said it would collect information on the N.W.T. Arts Strategy every year, with plans to publish performance reports in 2026 and 2031.

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