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Contemporary Inuit Arts in Canada

Fact Sheet

October 27, 200927 October 2009

Aboriginal arts

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Published by the Canada Council for the Arts, this brief fact sheet notes that there is a rich tradition of creativity and artistic ability in Inuit communities, with many artists blending “traditional knowledge with modern-day techniques”. “Elements of mixed cultural experiences meld with traditional Inuit culture to form a new and exciting genre of Inuit art.”

About three-quarters of the Inuit population in Canada live in one of the four regions within Inuit homeland, which stretches from Labrador to the Northwest Territories. There are many artists in the northern parts of Canada, especially Nunavut. In 2006, Nunavut’s 250 artists represented 1.86% of the territory’s labour force, more than double the Canadian average of 0.77%. Although many would not be accounted for in census data, “according to the 2004-05 Nunavut Household Survey, 30% of respondents stated that they were involved in making arts and crafts in 2003.”

Inuit art is a calling card for the arts in Canada, as Inuit art is sold in private galleries and hotels in every major city in Canada. There are also many private galleries in the U.S. or overseas that sell Inuit art. Inuit artists’ works often “address issues of identity and aesthetics, and tell a compelling story of cross-cultural interaction”.

The fact sheet indicates that “traditional Inuit culture, legends and the Arctic environment provide unparalleled inspiration and distinct themes; Inuit have been using their surrounding materials to create art for millennia; Inuit storytelling, throat singing and drum dancing are honoured traditions.” Currently, however, many traditional Inuit stories “are not being passed on and are at risk of being lost”.

There are particular challenges in creating art in the North. Artists and arts administrators have noted that “there is a serious lack of arts infrastructure in the North”, including studios, presentation spaces, artists-in-residence programs, connections with other knowledgeable people, and access to supplies. “Sometimes, natural resources have been depleted because of over-exploitation of the resource or due to the effects of climate change.”

The fact sheet also outlines the history of Inuit art in Canada, government relationships, as well as success stories of Inuit artists and arts organizations.

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