NEWS: Nunavut June 02, 2014 - 7:30 am

Nunavut’s oldest artist studio gets a new space

Cape Dorset's Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop will open in 2016

SARAH ROGERS

One of Nunavut’s best known artists’ centres is about to get a major facelift.

The West Baffin Co-op’s Kinngait studios in Cape Dorset, first launched in 1959, are the oldest professional printmaking studios in the country.

Now those studios are looking forward to a new home.

By 2016, the co-op hopes to open a new 10,000-square-foot facility called the Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop.

As its name suggests, the new centre will house space for artists to work and sell their art, as well as a heritage pavilion to display some of the community’s history.

“Those buildings that serve as studios now are quite old. They were put up in the 1970s,” said Jimmy Manning, a Cape Dorset artist and retired studio manager.

“They’re not up to code and they’ve really started to wear down. That’s one of the reasons people started talking about new studios, [but] combined with a cultural centre.”

While eight to 10 artists can currently work in both the co-op’s stone cut and lithography studios, a new centre will provide a less cramped space for a new generation of artists who are producing larger-sized pieces, Manning said.

The other part of the new facility will serve as a heritage centre, where the co-op plans to finally display its permanent collection, which until now has been scattered between Nunavut and southern Canada.

“We tried this cultural centre idea back in the mid-1980s, but it died then,” Manning said. “Years later, we felt strongly that we should look at it again. It’s a much-needed addition to the community.”

The centre’s new name honours the life of one of Kinngait’s most famous residents: renowned artist Kenojuak Ashevak, who passed away in 2013.

Manning said the decision to name the centre after Ashevak is a way to honour one of the co-op’s most acclaimed artists, while giving the new facility a name that visitors from all over will recognize.

But the new centre and print shop has yet to secure the estimated $7.5 million that’s required to complete its construction.

Manning, who serves as president of the Inuit Art Foundation, visited Toronto May 29 to present the project to potential donors.

The IAF, which is overseeing the centre’s southern fundraising campaign, secured two $200,000 donations this week, one each from Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and TD Canada Trust.

Other funders include Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which has committed $1 million towards the new centre, and the federal and territorial governments, which have pledged unspecified amounts of money for the project.

The building has been designed by Iqaluit’s Panaq design and the Montreal-based architectural firm, Fournier, Gersovitz, Moss, Drolet and Associates, which produced the designs for Iqaluit’s yellow airport terminal and, more recently, several new airport terminals in Nunavik.

The design of the new centre will make it a focal point for the community and visitors, said Maud Francoeur, an architect with FGDMA who is working on the project.

The building is colourful, uplifting and playful, reflecting the nature of the activities inside, she said.

Arriving from the airport, the centre is designed to function as a billboard, Francoeur explained, as coloured metal cut-outs created by local artists will announce the centre’s presence from different vantage points in the community.

Users and visitors enter through the main entrance, which serves the “cultural hub” of the building. That’s where visitors have an immediate view of exhibition rooms, artwork, retail area and an information desk.

Large windows open onto the outside terrace offering a scenic view to the inlet below, another important point of attraction.