The Great Northern Arts Festival

By Mariya Guzova

The Great Northern Arts Festival has been celebrating the talent and work of artists in Canada’s north since 1989. Every July, for ten days, artists and art lovers come to the North West Territories to take in the art and meet the artists behind it.


An inuit structure carved from marble. Photo by David Webb.

The festival is run by the Great Northern Arts Society, which works as a platform to help artists living in remote Northern communities.  Due to their location, artists don’t have the same access to markets, supplies, and galleries, as do artists in the south. The Society helps even out the playing field by hosting professional development workshops, seminars, and the annual festival.

“The goal of the festival is to give Northern artists the same exposure and opportunity that southern artists have,” explains Sasha Webb, executive director of the festival.

The festival showcases about 4, 000 pieces, and upwards of 80 visuals artists and 40 performance artists each year. Everyone from painters, like Patricia Baker, sculptors and carvers, such as Jimmy Iqaluq, dancers, and even traditional inuit throat singers can be found at the festival.


Models showing aboriginal fashion at last year’s GNAF. Photo by Estelle Marcoux.

The culminating event is the Northern Fashion show, which shows off some traditional and modern aboriginal and arctic style.

“It [the fashion show] is by far our most attended event,” says Tony Devlin, former executive director and board member at the GNAF. “We have world class designers that wish to put some of their clothing into our fashion show, and we also feature different collections that are out there.”


Marble statuette seen at the 2010 GNAF. Photo by David Webb.

Many of the artists also create works on the spot, sculpting and painting by their exhibits.

“The work area. That’s where they’re really inspired by each other,” says Sasha Webb, “and where people can see, I don’t mean to sound cliché, but the magic happening. You know, they can see the artist at work.”

Visitors can also participate in workshops, which teach participants how to create various works of art for themselves.

The festival pulls people and artists from around the world to the NWT town of Inuvik, just south of the Arctic Circle. There, one can also see the famous midnight sun of the Canadian North.

The festival is happening July 12-21, 2013.

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