Dumpcano fire inspires and rallies artists in Nunavut’s capital
Qaggiavuut society braves smoke for art at Sylvia Grinnell Park
Iqaluit’s dump fire may have fouled the air at Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park this summer thanks to prevailing winds, but that hasn’t kept the city’s performing artists away.
The Qaggiavuut Society of performing artists has chosen the park as an ideal venue for a summer performance series — and an open forum to share their ideas.
So long as smoke from the dump fire doesn’t discourage them too much.
Qaggiavuut kicked off its Art in the Park event at Sylvia Grinnell on a foggy, smoky Tuesday, July 22, hoping to “to engage the community about the value of the arts,” organizer Ellen Hamilton said.
The event runs every Tuesday night, normally at the territorial park’s pavilion.
The society’s broad goal is “to bring the community together – people who believe in art – just to talk about what it is that we need to support our artists in this community, and regionally or territorially,” she said.
The group’s full name, “Qaggiavuut! Society for a Performing Arts Centre for Nunavut, reflects their ultimate goal — to establish a performing arts centre in the territorial capital
But until that happens, the society continues to perform and highlight the importance of performing arts in society.
Part of this involves speaking out about current issues and reflecting, in a creative way, what’s happening in broader society, Hamilton said.
“Obviously right now, you have the dump. We wanted to hold Art in the Park for that reason,” she said, pointing to the two-month-old dump fire.
“Let’s not ignore this, it’s happening. What can we do, from the perspective of the artists, about this?”
The dump fire, which has burned uninterrupted and upwind from the park since May 20, is “a very big event in all of our lives here in Iqaluit,” and impossible to ignore.
“We want to say what we think about it and what we feel about it.”
Artists have their own particular take on things, she added, “not a political take necessarily, but from describing how they feel and think through art.”
Art in the Park is “to allow artists to come together and to share their ideas and thoughts about this park, and about what’s going on environmentally — obviously the damage that’s happening there, but from an artist’s perspective,” Hamilton said.
The event has drawn large groups of artists and creative minds so far.
Each session begins with a feature performance of music or dance, followed by an open discussion of creative ideas and a “sharing circle,” where people can share their creative works of song, poetry, music or other work, based on a theme decided the week before.
Some of Iqaluit’s best-known performers have opened the evening events, with acts pertaining to the dump fire.
Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, who is the society’s chair, opened the first night with a mask dance performance, followed by the Kasuktaqtiit gumboots dance troupe.
Veteran singer-songwriter Aaju Peter opened the second evening, July 29, with some original music in Inuktitut, centred on environmental themes. Next up was Saila Qayaq, who put on an Inuit drumming performance with Christine Lamothe.
Creators presented work based on the theme of “fire.”
As many as 50 people have attended the events each night. Both were punctuated by the smell of the burning dump, Hamilton said.
July 29’s gathering retreated into the pavilion after the feature performances, to avoid the smoke.
In fact, concerns about air quality might force the group to change venues.
“A lot of children are coming to the event, so there’s a bit of worry that it’s not a good idea to be so close to the smoke,” Hamilton said. “We wanted to keep it in there (in the park) to raise awareness about the dump, but we don’t want to hurt people.”
Art in the Park will move to the Francophone Centre for the next show, Aug. 5, due to conflicting schedules at the park. Hamilton hopes the event can continue there for the rest of summer, as long as the society agrees.
Next week’s creative theme will be “water.” The group is inviting all artists and members of the community to present any creative work they do — be it photography, stories, or songs — centred on this.
“I think all of us are watching this cloud (of smoke) every night, smelling it, and wondering how it’s affecting everything,” Hamilton said.
Health concerns have forced the city to create a plan to put the fire out once and for all, possibly using salt water from the sea.
“When you pour water on something, it drains somewhere,” which raises the question of where that’s going to go, Hamilton said.
“It will be interesting to hear what the artists of Iqaluit will share on this idea.”
Qaggiavuut’s next Art in the Park forum takes place at the Francophone Centre in Iqaluit, Aug. 5, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.