The usual concerns came up at a meeting of artists last week, called and hosted by avid craftsperson Georgina Fabian, namely that there needs to be some kind of collective for local artists.
“It’s mostly so we can gather and talk to each other about our concerns,” Fabian told The Hub. “But it will hopefully get us better access to funding from the government, too.”
According to Fabian, she is spearheading the initiative because she has spent too long working on her own and seeing the difficulties she and other artists face as a result of the relative isolation.
She wants to form a group that might be able to successfully lobby the GNWT for more funding or greater access to what already exists. She also wants to foster a co-operative atmosphere she believes has been lacking in the local arts scene.
“We shouldn’t compete with each other,” said Fabian, who lives on the Hay River Reserve. “We should be working together to promote all our work, learn from each other, and make arts and crafts into a real business in the South Slave.”
Fabian said the proposed collective would also be a key component in growing a market abroad, because, in her words, “There are only so many moccasins you can sell in the NWT.”
She also envisions the group as being a sort of centralized marketing body that would accept large corporate orders from abroad and farm them out to its members.
Fabian said that, although it is unrealistic to ask one craftsperson for 1,000 small pieces on short notice, it makes sense to share that work among all the artists in the region.
“I find that in the North for too long we’ve let someone else do it for us,” she said. “We need to do it ourselves. We need to show that we value our own work.”
Fabian said group meetings would also be a convenient place for artists to share skills and knowledge about their arts and crafts, but also to talk about the economic side of the work.
“Some people really need to have a better understanding of how to price their stuff,” she said. “I want them to come out and talk about their own experiences, how they sell.”
Although Fabian acknowledged that the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) has funding available for artists, she said not enough people know about it or find it easily accessible.
“The government should do more to tell us about the opportunities that are out there for funding,” she said.
Mike Maher, a business development officer with ITI, said his office has worked with artist groups in the past and would be happy to continue to do so.
“If you’re in a room with 20 artists, in a forum situation, and you ask a question, you get 20 different answers,” he said. “We would encourage artists to form any kind of society they want because it’s always easier to deal with one entity than a whole host of people wanting different things.”
Maher said some of the groups ITI has worked with locally include the Gateway Jamboree Society in Enterprise; the Hay River Music, Arts and Cultural Society; and the Hay River Early Music Society.
The business development officer encouraged any artists’ group to be inclusive and to accept as many members as possible to give it the best chance of success.
“These things tend to morph and change quite a bit,” Maher said. “But it’s always easier to deal with a quantum of something than it is to deal with individuals.”
— Sarah Ladik