An art museum connecting North and South
Since becoming Director and CEO of the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) in 2008, I have worked with countless partners, curators, artists, and cultural stakeholders to develop Qaumajuq, the world’s largest museum dedicated to Inuit art and culture. Connecting to the WAG on all levels, Qaumajuq will be a space for the appreciation of the North in the South, bringing us all closer together.
The WAG holds in trust the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world. To celebrate the art, the people who make it, and the lands from which they come, we are building Qaumajuq with the guidance of the WAG Indigenous Advisory Circle. Opening celebrations will take place in February 2021 and throughout the inaugural year.
“We are excited for Qaumajuq!” says Dr. Julie Nagam, Co-Chair. “The Circle recently worked with language keepers to name the buildings and galleries at the WAG in Indigenous languages. It has been an incredible experience for all Circle members. We are ecstatic to see our languages in the physical space and hearing people use those words, which is an important move towards decolonization.”
Qaumajuq is an Inuktitut name meaning “it is bright, it is lit,” a reference to the sunlight that pours into the building through the glass walls and skylights.
A place for building relationships
With the opening of Qaumajuq, the WAG will be able to accommodate 100,000 students every year and virtually connect students, teachers, curators, artists, and Elders — from North to South.
Today, over 2,000 Inuit artists from many Inuit Nunangat communities are represented in the WAG’s permanent collection. While several thousand of the artworks are sculptural, we also care for a wide range of prints, textiles, clothing, and digital media.
Our curators visit artists in their homes, workspaces, and communities, and spend time on the land with them to maintain strong relationships. We purchase works directly from the artists in their communities, or through the global art market. In addition, we collaborate with other museums, galleries, and Arctic co-ops to exhibit artworks on loan.
Innovating the art museum
Qaumajuq will build on the WAG’s long history and inter national recognition. Founded in 1912, Canada’s first civic art gallery is housed in an iconic modernist building in the heart of downtown Winnipeg. Designed by Gustavo da Roza and opened in 1971, the Gallery rises like the prow of a ship on a triangular ocean. In addition to eight galleries, the building contains a 320-seat auditorium, a shop with handmade work by Canadian and Indigenous artists, and inspired meeting spaces. The Rooftop Sculpture Garden is the place for cultural programming and scenic views.
Qaumajuq, a 40,000 square-foot addition designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture in collaboration with Cibinel Architecture faces south toward the Manitoba Legislature. The vastness, expansive light, and beautiful landscapes of the North have shaped the building’s physical structure.
When approaching the entrance at the corner of St. Mary’s Avenue and Memorial Boulevard, you will see an undulating white façade that evokes an iceberg. The outdoor plaza will be a landscaped gathering space for all, and the café’s patio will offer a unique vantage point for enjoying the city.
Visible from the street, a three-story glass vault will hold thousands of carvings. The vault’s curved glass walls extend from floor to ceiling and include shelving that follows the curvature of the enclosure. You will see curators and interns working inside the vault! Qaumajuq’s main level will be open to all, free of charge.
An interactive theatre will welcome school groups, Elders, performers, and academics for in-person and virtual sessions connecting North and South. The knowledge and sharing centre on the second level will encompass the learning common, and the research library and archives.
The largest gallery on the building’s third level is 8,000 square feet and wide open with possibility. The monumental, sculptural walls evoke the landscapes of many northern towns and inlets. 22 overhead skylights will allow curators to play with natural light, an unprecedented factor in most gallery spaces.
New sun-filled art-making studios and classrooms are concentrated on the penthouse level and rooftop. They will include a lobby and reception area, clay studio, digital media studio, kiln room, and two exterior studios for summer and winter activities, such as stone carving and ice sculpting.
Inuit involvement and partnerships
The WAG’s Indigenous Advisory Circle is at the heart of all of our decolonization and the Indigenization work. The Circle provides leadership and counsel in the development and planning of related WAG exhibitions, education, community outreach, partnerships, and programming. It is made up of representatives from the four regions of Inuit Nunangat: Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut. Urban Inuit and circumpolar Inuit communities such as Alaska are also represented, along with First Nations and Metis members from Manitoba and across the country.
In 2015 the Government of Nunavut (GN) entrusted the WAG with its Fine Arts Collection, which includes approximately 7,500 objects. This long-term loan involves care, storage, exhibition, mentorship, and development of public educational programming. Qaumajuq will provide a temporary new home for the GN collection.
“Our partnership with the WAG has also allowed us to develop training and internship modules to train Nunavummiut as cultural workers — as curators, educators, conservators, designers, and cultural marketers,” says David Joanasie, Minister of Culture and Heritage, Government of Nunavut. “Through innovative and collaborative education, training and exhibit programs, we now have the opportunity to provide greater public accessibility to our art and heritage collections, and help develop new employable skills for local Inuit in the art industry.”
We are honoured to support the GN’s efforts in creating increased awareness and exposure to the extensive collection until its return to Nunavut. We are dedicated to caring for the Spirit of the art with Ceremony, while Treaty 1 is its home. We are committed to supporting the development of cultural heritage centres in Inuit Nunangat by offering resources and expertise, with the long-term vision of developing a sister relationship with Qaumajuq for cultural exchange.
INUA: Moving forward together
Curated by an all-Inuit team representing the four regions of Inuit Nunangat, INUA is Qaumajuq’s inaugural exhibition. On view from February until August 2021, the show will challenge preconceived notions of Inuit art, celebrating the past and present work of Inuit artists who embrace the future.
“We’re mindful of representing each Inuit region and urban Inuit, while bringing together different generations of artists and art in many different media. Qaumajuq is for all people. It will be a dynamic space for experiencing art and a hub of education, research, programming, and performance,” says Dr. Heather Igloliorte, lead curator of INUA.
Qaumajuq builds on the WAG’s long history of collecting and exhibiting Inuit art and working with Inuit partners and stakeholders. By amplifying the voices of the artists and promoting cultural understanding, we aim to support reconciliation, and provide a gathering place for all people. The Centre will be a cornerstone for building capacity among emerging Inuit arts and heritage professionals, a place for mentorship, learning, and intercultural dialogue. Our mission is to provide a platform for Inuit voices and ensure all Inuit are welcomed. You can learn more about the project and find out how you can get involved at inuit.wag.ca.