Winnipeg’s Inuit art gallery planners hone their visions
“Where the conversations are all about the possible”
Planning a $45-million gallery is no easy task, but the visionaries behind the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s new Inuit Art and Learning Centre aren’t complaining.
In fact, they’re excited. The new centre could have a real impact on the Inuit art scene, both locally and globally.
“We live far apart from one another,” says Theresie Tungilik, an artist from Rankin Inlet.
“A place like the Inuit Art and Learning Centre will be able to house many Inuit artists from the past and the present, as well as looking at future artists through the learning centre.”
Tungilik sits on WAG’s Inuit art task force.
“They’re a group of people I can go to,” WAG director Stephen Borys said.
“In a way, they’re advisory… whether they’re artists or government or simply from the North, they can lend their voice and that was my goal there.”
The task force will work not only with WAG staff, but also with Michael Maltzan.
His architectural team was chosen in November from a pool of more than 60 firms keen to design Winnipeg’s new cultural landmark.
“(It’s) really just in the beginnings of design, which is always a very exciting time for me… the point in a project where the conversations are all about the possible,” Maltzan said.
Both Maltzan and Borys say the IALC will be the first of its kind.
“This new building is going to bring a number of different programmatic elements – exhibition, visible storage, education and learning – together in one building,” Maltzan said.
Winning the bid was a big deal for the American architect, not only for his Los Angeles-based firm, but for him personally.
“There’s a sense of great responsibility… you realize, what you do, what you design is going to have such a significant impact on the way people now and in the future will perceive an important institution like the WAG,” he said.
For Maltzan, the job is both a privilege and a learning experience.
“We did a great deal of research trying to understand and learn about the specifics of the history of Inuit art,” he said.
The gallery boasts the biggest collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world.
But right now its mostly in storage because there’s simply not enough space to display it.
Some people may think Winnipeg an odd choice for the Inuit cultural hub. According to the 2006 Statistics Canada census, there are only a few hundred Inuit living in Winnipeg.
But WAG director Stephen Borys says the city is a good place for the centre.
“Most people will never travel north to really see the context in which the art is produced. One thing the WAG can do is just provide more information about the culture, about the art making.”
Through the centre, he’d like to build a better connection to the North.
“Our curator goes up there fairly regularly. We’ve brought artwork down. I just think we’d like to do even more… I’d love to think of some virtual spaces, some exchanges, satellite, artist workshops…” Borys said.
Jerry Ell also thinks the centre will have a good home in Winnipeg. The Rankin Inlet artist sits with Tungilik on the gallery’s task force.
“Winnipeg has always been a very strong market for Inuit art, so it’s very appropriate for the art gallery to be there,” Ell said.
Ell is proud to be part of the Inuit art community.
“The style is what I believe makes it very different and unique from all other art forms I’ve seen around the world and within Canada… it’s all based on our cultural connection to the land.”
Visitors can check out the full collection in 2016. That’s when the IALC hopes to open its doors.