What NOT to say to an artist


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I’ve always wanted to interview Jutai Felix Toonoo. A lot of people do.

But the real question journalists across Canada have to ask themselves is: ‘Does Jutai want to be interviewed by you?’

Toonoo is one of the most in-your-face artists working in Canada today. He’s outspoken and opinionated on everything from the art world to Nunavut politicians to Inuit culture. In short, he’s known to be ‘difficult.’

But this afternoon, just as we were finishing up our filming at Kinngait Studios, Jutai Toonoo walks in. He wants to work on a drawing in the studio.

I say ‘hi’ and tell him what we’re working on. Surprisingly, he says we can stay, film him and ask him questions while he works on his drawing “Eskimo Tan.”

I expect him to go off on me anytime. But for the entire interview he’s polite, respectful and gives thoughtful and honest answers to every question.

(I’ll post a copy of the entire interview here later on so you guys, especially you art fans, can see it for yourself.)

But after a while, studio manager Bill Ritchie knocks on the door, says it’s late and that he has to close up the studio now. We wrap up the interview and start packing the gear.

Jutai shows the drawing to Bill. Bill says it’s great, but that Jutai needs to come back tomorrow to finish the drawing before the studio will agree to buy it.

Close up of Toonoo’s Eskimo Tan. Does it look finished to you?All of a sudden, Jutai is storming around the studio hurling all sorts of insults at Bill, Cape Dorset and life in general. Bill takes it all in stride but I’m stunned.

These outbursts really are as bad as everyone says.

Jutai storms out the front door, but blasts back in ten seconds later, waving his finger in my face. “You!” he yells. “Do you want to buy it?”

“I’d love to but I can’t afford your work,” I say in an awkward attempt at levity.

“This is all your fault,” Jutai says, turning on his heel and storming out the door again. “You guys f*%k-ed me up!”

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is a journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project.

Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the violent death of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on violence and trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

Twitter: @Arctic_EQ

Email: eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

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