2018 Feature Laureate — Traditional Techniques Tweaked to Galvanized Indigenous Northern Artisans
Above and beyond the rugged landscape and long winters cloaked in darkness, Canada’s North offers inspiration from the northern lights, a summer sun that doesn’t set, and raw, wild beauty, not to mention a rich kaleidoscope of talented Indigenous artisans.
Many of these artisans often sell their work through an underground economy. This undermines the perceived quality of some of the work. It also contributes to poor relationships with money and impedes their ability to be successful and profitable.
Sue McNeil saw the challenges these artisans faced in the Inuvialuit and Gwich’in Settlement Areas. How can artists have more say in what they do, and more say in their finances? What business skills do they need to be selfdetermined, sustainable business owners?
For Sue, it was about empowering the artists to be more successful by providing opportunities to be more comfortable promoting their business. It was also about finding ways for them to support each other. Her solution: create an association of northern Indigenous artists and crafters with self‐determined quality, products, prices, and markets that would support sustainable and culturally valuable lifestyles.
Like many great ideas, it needed funding to get off the ground.
Enter the Arctic Inspiration Prize (AIP). As the largest annual prize in Canada with a specific focus on the Arctic, each year the Arctic Inspiration Prize recognizes diverse teams with innovative, community‐driven projects in the fields of education, sustainable housing, health, performing arts, traditional knowledge, language, and science.
Sue convened an Artists Committee to build the framework for an Artists Association. The goals of the Artists Association: manage the business of selling the artwork through sustainable business ventures, build capacity and self‐determination for artists in the region, improve local artisans’ skills ensuring authentic, high‐quality products, and build confidence in the members as sustainable business owners.
To break down barriers and build trust, the Artists Committee gathered input from artists to better understand what they wanted. They found there was a desire to focus not just on traditional art but also on generating art in non‐traditional ways.
With this plan in hand, the Artists Committee tackled the process of putting together the AIP nomination and gathered letters of support from AIP ambassadors.
For some, this process can be daunting. Sue’s advice: “Don’t be intimidated — nominations take effort. Reach out for assistance. Find someone who has experience.” The AIP has an extensive network of Ambassadors across the North who can offer advice and support navigating the process. “The true value of the AIP is there are no time restrictions and the money can be combined with other funding. Take the time to plan and use the money wisely.”
In 2018, due to the efforts of the Artists Committee, the Traditional Techniques Tweaked to Galvanized Indigenous Northern Artisans project received $500,000.
If you have a great idea that can inspire the North, visit the AIP website at arctic inspirationprize.ca for more information about the prize, nomination guides, and templates.
The deadline for nominations this year is October 14, 2020, at 11:59 pm PT.