CAPE DORSET LEGACY PROJECT
Since its emergence in the 1950s as a creative hub and cultural incubator, Cape Dorset, Nunavut in Canada’s Arctic Circle, has been a source of world class drawings, prints and sculpture. Under the stewardship of the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative and its marketing division Dorset Fine Arts, Canadian Inuit art has found a place amongst the finest collections, exhibitions and publications worldwide. The unique contribution of Cape Dorset artists has enriched the general discourse around contemporary art and has helped to build a distinctive creative profile for Canada. In order to preserve the vitality of Inuit art, the milieu requires enhanced resources and renewed stimulus – maintenance of the Cape Dorset legacy requires continued investment in both the creation and promotion of Inuit art. Throughout its history of activity, West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative has enjoyed financial success and remained sustainable almost entirely via self-generated revenues. However, some sixty years later, the business world has significantly changed with new models for success widely adopted in an increasingly competitive environment. Particularly within a commercial visual arts context, a rapidly growing international appetite for cultural product is an exciting opportunity on the one hand, and a situation of heightened challenge on the other. The Legacy Project is a targeted initiative intended to respond to this shifting territory – its design is both immediately vital in triggering an Inuit art renaissance while at the same time seeding future momentum.
The strength of relationship between Dorset Fine Arts in Toronto and the Kinngait Studios in Cape Dorset can ensure that the production of Inuit art is meaningfully connected to national and international market and exhibition opportunities. As such, the proposed structure of this Legacy initiative prioritizes robust communication and resource sharing between Dorset Fine Arts and the studio and its artist residents. The Legacy Project is envisioned as an umbrella initiative beneath which several requisite and ongoing activities can operate, such as marketing, communications and skills development. Also under this egis, complementary and ad hoc programs are also possible – a good example of this is a future relationship with the Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop. As fundraising efforts bring the centre closer to realization, the Legacy Project is positioned to provide the content and creative capacity to populate the venue over the coming years. The activity currently generated at Kinngait Studios has significant tourism implications – a number of cruise ship and other visitors are attracted to Cape Dorset because of the uniqueness and quality of art produced in the hamlet. With the Kenojuak Cultural Centre as its home base, the studios have the potential to become a premier destination for international travelers. A healthy and thriving creative community is integral to seizing this opportunity – the Cape Dorset Legacy Project can ensure that necessary community prosperity.
Although this initiative is proposed as specific to Cape Dorset, its structure and methodology could easily be transposed onto other communities as a means of sustaining and growing various northern creative hubs. As the Cape Dorset Legacy Project unfolds, the process and its resulting successes and challenges will be fully documented. In the longer term, this template will be made available to colleague communities wishing to instigate a similar creative renewal.
The Dorset Fine Arts showroom in downtown Toronto.
During its three to five-year lifespan the Cape Dorset Legacy Project is a strategic initiative aimed at renewing the vitality and sustainability of a local creative community. Intentionally limited in duration, the program will prioritize immediate needs while building permanent capacity allowing for long-term viability and growth. Building on the infrastructure currently provided by West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative, Kinngait Studios and Dorset Fine Arts, the Legacy Project will create adaptable tools and mechanisms ensuring future success in an ever-changing cultural and commercial environment. The fundamental goal of this one-time undertaking is to maintain the independence and strength of Cape Dorset cultural assets in the years to come. The program is designed using a quarterly matrix so that travel, events and outreach initiatives happen in a coordinated manner thus maximizing impact and profile.
Ongoing artist growth and professional development along with a renewed corporate plan are critical to ensuring the future commercial viability of Cape Dorset’s creative output. The Legacy Project is motivated by a number of key priorities:
Loss of an elder generation of creator is affecting a major shift in the quality and quantity of Inuit art from Cape Dorset. While an international demand for Inuit art remains strong, the reality of a dwindling inventory of superior work is a growing dilemma.
Encouragement of emerging voices as a means of renewing the creative community in Cape Dorset is imperative. Developments in the Canadian Arctic have introduced new opportunities to a formative generation of Inuit, whereby lucrative careers in the public and private sector, outside of the visual arts, have become predominant. The Legacy Project is conceived as a means of making art-related jobs both desirable and profitable to this vital demographic.
In an increasingly competitive contemporary art marketplace, artists require new and enhanced career tools and specialized training in order to flourish. Dorset Fine Arts and Kinngait Studios are uniquely equipped to provide professional development to a community where generation, language or ability can make delivery, of such programs, a significant challenge.
Professional development and succession planning for Kinngait Studios technical staff is imperative. After six decades of operation and throughout several leadership changes, the studios have continued to be prolific in output and internationally significant. We are entering another new era in the life of Kinngait Studios – one that requires careful change and succession management.
Build capacity around cultural tourism and specialized destination travel. Functioning alongside the export potential for Cape Dorset Inuit art, tourism presents increasingly prosperous opportunities for the community. Ensuring a high quality product and feeding the popularity of that art internationally, is essential to growing the tourism industry – the Legacy Project is designed to perform both those functions. This priority creates a circumstance in which West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative can create unique partnerships with public and private sector entities outside the visual arts context.
The Cape Dorset Legacy Project is a finite-term, multi-focused campaign, which will seek to strengthen existing markets and cultivate new opportunities for Inuit art while engaging directly at a grassroots level, with professional development and career building tools for artists. The Legacy Project comprises three platforms:
The fundamental building blocks of Cape Dorset’s legacy are its Inuit creators and their remarkably distinct work. A primary focus of the Legacy Project is to provide the specialized tools and learning opportunities that are crucial to maintaining the high quality artistic output for which Cape Dorset is globally known. These initiatives will develop skills related to art making, honing a career path and an understanding of the broader contemporary art scene. Through mentorship, residencies, travel and regular workshops, Cape Dorset’s Inuit artists will have the chance to build their creation capacity right here at home or in venues around the world. Some of the activity related to this platform is:
Quarterly Workshop Residencies in Cape Dorset – These quarterly engagements of between one and two weeks will be coordinated with the visit of Dorset Fine Arts staff and harmonized with meeting of the Board of Directors. Artists, arts professionals and technicians will visit Kinngait Studios to provide specialized training and production assistance to Dorset artists. Improvements in a number of professional development areas have been identified as necessary in maintaining the quality and quantity of art produced by Dorset artists. Participants in the residency program will be recognized experts in an identified strategic area and will conduct comprehensive multi-day master classes, workshops or seminars with the aim of improving or expanding the skill set of local talent.
Professional Residencies in Partnership with International Organizations – Currently Dorset Fine Arts administers two significant residency partnerships. Both Open Studio in Toronto and Brooklyn Museum in New York host Inuit artists from Cape Dorset on an annual basis. These have become crucial experiences for Inuit artists, which enhance understanding of international art world dynamics. Through an onsite interaction for approximately two weeks, participating artists undertake important training and have the opportunity to develop a new body of work during that time. The residency also affords Dorset Fine Arts staff the chance to reconnect with existing client galleries while actively cultivating new connections
Presence at Art Fairs, Festivals, Conferences and Trade Show – Dorset Fine Arts is part of a complex, wide-reaching contemporary art community – functioning effectively as an agent representing Inuit artists in this context, requires sophisticated networking and intelligence gathering. There are a number of venues in the North, across Canada and globally, which provide opportunities for the promotion of Inuit art. A system of art fairs, festivals, conferences and trade shows exists across all continents – these have become increasing more important as venues for the promotion and sale of artwork. Dorset Fine Arts is uniquely equipped to engage in these circumstances and is an effective liaison between our artists in the North and an international community of galleries, museums and collectors. Dorset Fine Arts will include artists and arts professionals from the community
Website Redevelopment and Maintenance – In the art world, online presence has fast become an integral complement to physical participation in events and gatherings. The Dorset Fine Arts website and its related social media program have significantly bolstered reach of the organization’s marketing efforts. These online approaches have become an important part of an organizational strategy but have also developed as a vital professional tool for individual artists – almost without exception, the Dorset Fine Arts website is the only online profile for local creators. Further enrichment of the site would prioritize the creation of more and better data about Dorset’s working artists, which would include artist statements, biographies, résumés along with still and video imagery. Dorset Fine Arts has undertaken to produce all public documents in electronic format and make these accessible on its website. This effort will be expanded to include the digitization of all previous print publications such as print release catalogues.
Quarterly and Annual Reporting to the International Community – Dorset Fine Arts will undertake to report regularly on its activities and the developments at Kinngait Studios and West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative. Adopting a quarterly cycle, an electronic newsletter will be made available to stakeholders internationally, which will provide a preview about what’s in store for the next three-month period. This ongoing communication mechanism is intended to pique general interest but also to seed exhibition, residency, press and sales possibilities. Alongside quarterly outreach, Winter 2016 will see the launch a first ever Dorset magazine – released annually, this full colour print and electronic almanac will reflect on a full year of accomplishments for Cape Dorset’s Inuit artists. Richly illustrated and containing original artist projects, the item is equally intended as an information source as it is designed to be a sought after collectable. Its annual publication cycle and the winter release timing will also allow Dorset magazine to function as a stylized annual report.
The Cape Dorset creative engine is maintained by a strong sense of local belonging, a careful appreciation of homegrown assets and a constantly evolving intergenerational dialogue. The Legacy Project will consider these values as foremost in shaping direction and leading outcomes – its artist stakeholders will have a primary and dominant voice in program development and maintenance. The Legacy Project understands that generally healthy group dynamics are essential to well being of individuals within creative communities – this is even more true within the Inuit art milieu. Functioning as a central forum for soundings and consultations, the Legacy Project will be a catalyst for discussion amongst Cape Dorset’s Inuit artists, which guarantees that the community provides principal guidance for this initiative. Some of the activity related to this platform is:
Quarterly Community Gatherings – Highlighting the quarterly cycle of activity will be opportunities for the Dorset community to congregate around the developments in the region’s Inuit art. Dorset Fine Arts will conduct illustrated presentations outlining past and upcoming activities while soliciting feedback and critique from attendees. Priority will also be given to artist presentations and community-lead engagements – since attendance will comprise those outside the art world, the interaction will take on a more holistic approach. These gatherings will encourage intergenerational dialogue and frank exchange about successes and concerns as they relate to art and life in Cape Dorset. Outcomes and direction from these sessions will serve to inform growth of the overall Dorset Legacy Project.
Community Mentorship Program – It is acknowledged that peer-to-peer and intergenerational learning is an important part of the Inuit art community in Cape Dorset. The Legacy Project intends to encourage more instances of mentorship amongst practicing artists as a means of inspiring emerging talent and to ensure a high quality of creative output in general. Community mentorship is vital to further developing pride in the region as an artistic hub but also an essential tool in honing production skills.
Relationship Building with Community Organizations – Despite the intimate scale of the Cape Dorset community, interaction between the artists and art professionals and their colleagues working in other sectors remains surprisingly infrequent. Dorset Fine Arts, Kinngait Studios and West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative are uniquely equipped to broker deeper and strategic relationships within the region. The aim of this endeavor is two-fold: 1) to enrich the various layers of Cape Dorset infrastructure with local creative vitality; 2) resulting in a greater appreciation of, and local pride in, regional art production. It is envisioned that artists and arts professionals would become better connected to health, social welfare, government, education and natural resource development sectors.
Community Driven Blogspace – This web-based exchange platform will allow artists in the community to share narrative about new ideas, challenges and reflections. Capitalizing on the popularity of social media in the North, this moderated virtual destination will encourage more interaction among Cape Dorset artists and between artists and the broader regional population. This venue will also facilitate more connection to other communities in the Arctic, providing enhanced North-to-North dialogue, at the same time creating stronger ties to the international community.
Each of the the identified platforms will embrace innovation, celebrate and share traditional knowledge, value the role of elder artists and nurture the next generation of Cape Dorset’s cultural practitioners. In moving forward with the umbrella initiative, Dorset Fine Arts will engage a professional management consultant to begin the process of synthesizing these concepts into an actionable strategic plan. The input of a planning expert will ensure feasibility of the initiative and guarantee it resulting in Cape Dorset as a continued cultural hub, its artists as prominent member of the international arts community and its art a strong market commodity. Dorset Fine Arts is pleased to launch this initiative, and is confident that the Cape Dorset Legacy Project will renew and invigorate an artistic milieu that has in equal measure, fortified generations of creative minds and transformed the place they call home – while profoundly influencing the world at large.