Changing Winnipeg’s artistic relationship through Inuit Art

Mockup of the expansion of the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) in the downtown centre.

Mike Sudoma

Richard Frost discusses the Inuit Art expansion.

Mike Sudoma

Gallery visitors take in various Inuit art works at the WAG.

Mike Sudoma

The Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) will soon have an Inuit Art Centre (IAC).

With more than 13,000 pieces in its possession already, the WAG holds the world’s largest public collection of Inuit art. 

In part thanks to a gift of $950,000 from the Winnipeg Foundation, that collection will grow and give the WAG an opportunity to better share the art. 

“It’s a phenomenal opportunity for people to learn and make people more aware of our rich culture with the North and the rich culture that is connected with the North,” Tammy Sawatzky, the WAG/IAC public relations coordinator, says.

The WAG hopes to act as a cultural advocate and to create a new programming hub.

The Inuit Art Centre will also support art making, exhibition, education and research while celebrating Inuit art and culture. The WAG hopes the centre will inspire youth, celebrate Inuit culture, serve as an iconic gathering place and enhance the quality of life for Manitobans. 

It has already formed partnerships with artists, organizations and governments to ensure that the new building acts as an accurate representation, celebration and repository of Inuit culture. 

“I just don’t think that people are aware of the scale and the artists that exist and that come from the north,” Sawatzky says. “We currently have the Cape Dorset collection. Cape Dorset claims to be the most artistic place in the world.”

This will all take place in a new architectural addition to the WAG. The Inuit gallery, which will be the largest of its kind in North America, will be housed in an 8,000 square-foot, 34 foot high space.

The addition will complement the existing architecture of the WAG, which could add to the visual appeal of the building. It will have a visible vault for viewing Inuit artifacts, shaped like a cylinder and made of glass. 

There will also be studios and classrooms for visitors, educators and scholars of all ages, as well as artist and curator-in-residence programs. 

A two level interactive theatre will host the media, presentations, performances and art installations. 

WAG director and CEO Stephen Borys and Winnipeg Foundation CEO Rick Frost agree that construction on this new endeavour is an excellent fit for Winnipeg and for the WAG. 

“This is a signature project for our city. This isn’t just a bold, but also a meaningful project,” Frost says.

According to Sawatzky, the new facility is a big step forward for the WAG, the city and for the country as it will develop the relationship between Canada’s North, Winnipeggers and the WAG itself.

Published in Volume 70, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 29, 2015)

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