Qaggiavuut summit works on vision for Nunavut performance centre
"Any individual who walks in will be a part of Inuit culture"
When someone steps into Qaggiavuut, Nunavut’s proposed performing arts centre in Iqaluit, they should feel a warm welcome.
That’s the vision of the Qaggiavuut Society, developed during a week of discussions with Nunavut artists, musicians, storytellers, elders and drum dancers held Feb. 11 to Feb. 15 in Iqaluit.
“I see them gaining a sense of pride, [so] any individual who walks in will be a part of Inuit culture, they will understand this beautiful environment of ours,” said Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, who chairs the non-profit Qaggiavuut Society.
The summit participants want a centre, built in the shape of a qaggiq, a large igloo for community gatherings, celebrations and performances, that will be a learning place as well as a hub for the performing arts.
It will echo the times when building a large snow house symbolized hope and prosperity.
“When people had enough richness in their family, that’s when they built the qaggiq,” Williamson Bathory said.
The future centre should be “something that goes to the heart of Nunavut, and the inside needs to be beautiful and have stories to tell,” she said.
The centre would serve as a multi-purpose space for a variety of workshops: on drum-making, drum-dancing, prop-making, costume-making, and Inuktitut learning through the arts— and someday, its programming could provide the basis for Nunavummiut to study towards fine arts degrees in drum dancing.
“That came up again and again in the break-up groups and our talking circles that it is so important for this Qaggiavuut to be a learning centre,” Williamson Bathory said.
There, people should be able to learn about the performing arts, the background of performing arts, carpentry, sewing, “so that the arts can grow within the individual and can also grow within the community.”
“It seems superficial, but it’s really important to have a beautiful space to see and be seen,” Williamson Bathory said.
During the summit discussions, members of the society stressed the importance of the multi-purpose space, as well as multiple stages “to create a feeling of intimacy.”
“We need to have one theatre that has the capacity to have a large group of people, but not too big and not too small because its very important for the audience to have a connection with the performance that they’re watching,” Williamson Bathory said.
That way, the centre would accommodate different types of performances and artists such as youth drama groups that are creating experimental pieces, kids’ programming and rock concerts.
The centre would have programming that involves Inuktitut and the arts, and possibly a coffee shop or café that would only serve “beautiful” country food, she said.
The goal is for the centre to be used continually, and to make sure it is maintained.
The centre should also be an accepting place, Lori Idlout, secretary-treasurer of Qaggiavuut’s fundraising and design committee said.
“Our elders can have a sense of ease knowing that their knowledge will be passed on to whoever walks into that facility… the inclusion that people will feel will be wonderful because even though they are visitors they will be welcomed,” she said.
“No matter where you come from, you walk in and you’re a part of Inuit culture,” Idlout said, while sitting in a circle during the summit participants’ closing remarks.
“When people had enough richness in their family, that’s when they built the Qaggiavuut,” she said.
Williamson Bathory agrees.
“The programming really has to be inclusive of all different kinds of people, abilities and disabilities, socio-economic status,” she said.
The next step involves working on a feasibility study for the centre.
“We needed to bring together people from all over Nunavut to have the initial conversation, we have an Iqlauit-based board but our advisory council comes from all over Nunavut… this is the first time we’ve come together as a group,” Williamson Bathory said.
The Qaggiavuut centre hopes the money for the centre will come from different organizations and government.
“What is possible in the realm of building and programming and all that kind of stuff, in terms of where we are looking for funding is the Government of Nunavut,” Williamson Bathory said.
Iqaluit’s the only capital city in Canada that doesn’t have a performing arts centre, and also the only city in the circumpolar world that doesn’t have a performing arts centre.
For inspiration, the society has looked to the Katuaq cultural centre in Nuuk and at the performing arts centres in Yellowknife and Yukon.
Chad Keadjuk of Kugluktuk, who attended the Qaggiavuut summit, said that for him, drum dancing is a stress reliever — and something he would like to see more people learn and practice.
“All of the worries of your family, money in your pocket…I don’t think of anything like that when I’m drum dancing, [so] I’m very grateful to be a part of this,” he said.
Julia Ogina of Cambridge Bay, who led singing and drum dancing workshops during the summit, said she wants to see Nunavut youth grow artistically.
“I’m always going to be saying things that you may not want to hear but I want to see growth, I want to see you mature, I want to see you being able to give back, because you’re our connection to the next generation,” she said.
A performing arts centre will be a step in that direction, the Qaggiavuut Society hopes.