Yellowknife's new visitor centre has a gold-flecked path, a wall of moss and sorely needed gallery space

·3 min read
Melaw Nakehk'o with some of her artwork at Yellowknife's new Visitors Information Centre. The new centre has an art gallery space. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC - image credit)
Melaw Nakehk'o with some of her artwork at Yellowknife's new Visitors Information Centre. The new centre has an art gallery space. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC - image credit)

Monday marked the first time Melaw Nakehk'o has seen some of her artwork on a gallery's walls.

Nakehk'o has been working on a collection of paintings for several years — figurative paintings focused on people she knows from the North. On Monday, they became some of the first art to be featured at Yellowknife's new visitors' centre as part of the centre's first art show.

"They've just, like, lived on the easel and then kind of been tucked away in a corner," Nakehk'o said during the centre's grand opening Monday at noon.

How does it feel to finally see them on a wall?

"They look like actual art pieces!"

The area where Nakehk'o's paintings hang is a non-commercial gallery space the city says the arts community asked for. It's inside the new Visitor Information Centre in the Centre Square Mall, along with an aurora gallery, a moss wall and more.

Jenna Dulewich/CBC
Jenna Dulewich/CBC

Nakehk'o said it's an amazing addition for artists in the territory.

"For an artist that's been living in Yellowknife for quite a long time, it feels really good to have a show and share my work with the people in the community," she said.

"I absolutely love the gallery. I'm so excited for all of the shows and to be able to celebrate other artists in Yellowknife and hopefully the Northwest Territories."

Sarah Swan, the exhibit curator, said the opening of the gallery was "a dream come true" — a white-walled space badly needed in the city.

"It's thrilling just to see it right before my eyes," she said.

There's a learning curve ahead, though — Swan said questions still need to be answered about who will govern and manage the space and how long local artists will need to wait to exhibit their art.

"There's lots to be worked out, yet, but I think the bottom line is that the artists are just thrilled that there's something here for us now," she said.

Jenna Dulewich/CBC
Jenna Dulewich/CBC

A reflection of Yellowknife

Across the visitors' centre's floor, a gold-flecked path leads people around — homage to the city's mining heritage, said Kerry Thistle, the city's director of economic development.

"From the outset, we really tried to include all aspects — our traditional heritage, our mining heritage, of course we know the aurora is the reason visitors are coming often. So it was, how do we interweave everything in one space?" she explained, adding they took the advice of Yellowknives Dene First Nation to include natural features and wood wherever they could.

"We are quite pleased."

Jenna Dulewich/CBC
Jenna Dulewich/CBC

Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty said the grand opening was the culmination of years of work. It means the visitors' centre will no longer be on the lower level of city hall.

"What's really exciting is it's a beautiful space for visitors, lots of great information, really using technology to stay up-to-date," she said.

Alty said her favourite features of the new centre are the moss wall — "I want one in my house, now," she said — and, of course, the art gallery.

"There's so many things. People have to come down and check it out," she said.