Yellowknife co-operative takes art school plan back to the drawing board

·4 min read
Matthew Grogono, captured outside the Hudson Bay Company building in 2017, is the president of the Yellowknife Artist Co-operative. Even though the group abandoned their plan to renovate the building, YAC has not yet given up on the idea of an arts learning centre.  (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC - image credit)
Matthew Grogono, captured outside the Hudson Bay Company building in 2017, is the president of the Yellowknife Artist Co-operative. Even though the group abandoned their plan to renovate the building, YAC has not yet given up on the idea of an arts learning centre. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC - image credit)

After a few years on hiatus, the Yellowknife Artist Co-operative (YAC) has resumed their work of establishing a learning arts school.

For years, various artists and groups have been working on establishing an arts centre in the Northwest Territories, similar to the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity or the Yukon Arts Centre, but so far no group has succeeded.

Matthew Grogono, president of the co-operative, said that after public engagement sessions and a feasibility study conducted in 2018, there was just not enough resources to go ahead with their original plan of setting up an art centre in the Hudson Bay Company building in Old Town.

"After much reconnaissance and effort we concluded that, for the scale of what we have available to us, taking on the Hudson's Bay building restoration project was out of the scope," Grogono said.

They're now back to the consulting stage of the plan.

He said recently, the YAC's project gathered some new interest from locals and a professor for the University of Calgary, which combined, stoked new energy into the group's efforts.

"We, on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule, meet and discuss and strategize. We've come up with a general overall terms of reference for where we want to go," Grogono said.

YAC's next steps involve applying for funding through the university to run an environmental and social overview of the arts community.

This would include talking with other organizations, Indigenous leaders and government departments to get an in-depth look at what artists really want and need.

Grogono has been involved with setting up an art centre for over 20 years, and he doesn't expect see this new effort for an arts centre to happen quickly. But, he says his end goal would be an arts centre modeled after the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity or the Yukon Arts Centre.

"I see a learning centre of the arts in the North that's able to vitalize and invigorate the arts community in a constructive, cohesive way and to help bring appreciation and respect for the arts. It's a very important part of making a community."

The foster Family Coalition and artists including Terry Pamplin have teamed up with Makerspace YK to open up an arts centre in the old After 8 Pub building. They hope to start offering programming in the summer.
The foster Family Coalition and artists including Terry Pamplin have teamed up with Makerspace YK to open up an arts centre in the old After 8 Pub building. They hope to start offering programming in the summer.(Walter Strong/CBC)

Need to collaborate

However, another group with a project for an arts centre already in the works, thinks the arts community needs to get behind one idea instead of work on separate plans.

The Foster Family Coalition and Yellowknife artists, including Terry Pamplin, have teamed up with Makerspace YK to open up an arts centre in the old After 8 Pub building.

Pamplin has been an artist in the city for over 40 years and, like Grogono, has been involved in setting up an art centre.

"We're working on ideas now on how to run programs and hopefully by the time summer comes around, we will have some initial programs started to invite the public for either artist exhibits, workshops and a drop-in centre for people that just want to create anything," said Pamplin.

He also spoke highly of the city's plan to move the visitor centre and add a public art gallery in Centre Square Mall, a spot previously used by artists or organizations as a studio and gallery space.

"In one iteration or another, whether it's just an open gallery or whether it's workshop space or a rentable studio space for artists … I've worked on that every year since I came, and other people have too," Pamplin said.

However, he thinks a lack of communal support from the whole artist community is part of why projects haven't succeeded yet.

"This Makerspace art space and the downtown visitors centre gallery space, in my way of thinking, is where we should be putting our efforts," Pamplin said.

"They're the most promising and the most feet on the ground.

"Add that to what I call a supportive Yellowknife arts group … and I think we can make a go of it and it will just get bigger from here."