Project to digitize works from Inuit artists gets further grant from Canadian Heritage

Digital archive associate Marisha Pula documenting a sculpture by Abraham Etungat. (Courtesy Kinngait Arts Foundation)
A project to digitize the works from the famed Kinngait art program in Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut has received a further grant from the federal heritage department.

A first $50,000 grant was awarded by Canadian Heritage in 2018 to buy digitization equipment. Another $50,000 was announced this month that the Kinngait Art Foundation will put towards hiring the staff to do the digitization.

“The art of Kinngait is core to the identity of the Inuit people from our region, and is an important part of the Canadian creative personality,” said West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative President Pauloosie Kowmageak in a news release on Wednesday.

“My organization has always taken very seriously the maintenance and promotion of that history. Our partnership with Kinngait Arts Foundation and this renewed support from Canadian Heritage will allow us to continue that vital mission.”

Making collection more easily available

The print program in the community of Kinngait (formerly known as Cape Dorset) was established in the late 1950s. The first annual print collection was released in 1959, the same year the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative was established in the community. 

The collection made up of images produced by Inuit in the region, who’d been taught printmaking by Canadian artist James Houston after he’d moved to the area.

The Cape Dorset prints of Arctic nature and traditional Inuit life became a hit in the art world and a favourite of collectors. Artists like Kenojuak Ashevak (1927 -2013 ) whose work appeared in the first collection, went on to have an international career spanning decades.

The Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop in the community of Kinngait. About 25,000 of approximately 160,000 total artworks produced by Kinngait artists are housed in this community. (Courtesy West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative)

There’s been art produced by approximately 175 artists in the community since then, according to the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative.

Approximately 100,000 of those works are in a vault at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, a gallery in Kleinburg, Ontario; approximately 35,000 of them are at Dorset Fine Arts, the marketing arm of Kinngait’s West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Toronto, with another approximately 25,000 in Kinngait.

“This funding will support The Kinngait Arts Foundation’s work to promote, protect and preserve Inuit art,” said Dan Vandal, Minister of Northern Affairs on behalf of Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage, in a news release. “It will help to strengthen Inuit identity and safe-keep traditional and cultural knowledge by upgrading their collections management systems to maintain digital historic records.” 

“By making this investment we can ensure future generations can continue to celebrate the unique heritage, diversity and contributions Inuit artists to this country.”

“This is just the beginning”

The digitalization of all the works is the beginning of massive project to make as much as the collection available as possible to the public.

“It’s overhwhelming,” said William Huffman, the marketing manager for the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, in a phone interview with Eye on the Arctic. “We get inquiries all the time whether from museums, or researchers or media, but there’s just no way to make all that work accessible.

“Working towards having a critical mass of that artwork available in a robust and searchable way online is an important step towards becoming a go-to hub for research.”

The New Raw

The New Raw: Eye on the Arctic’s 2010 documentary report on the Cape Dorset print program.

In the longterm, those working on the project will be looking for ways to incorporate artist interviews and footage along with the art, to give people an multidimensional, and multimedia, view of the artists and artworks.

“There’s such an appetite for this in the world,” Huffman said. “And there’s so much more we can do with this initiative as it gets underway. This is just the beginning.”

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: New ebook explores life and legacy of Canadian artist Annie Pootoogook, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Sámi-themed Finnish short film makes Sundance lineup, Yle News

Greenland: `Enough of this postcolonial sh#%’ – An interview with Greenlandic author Niviaq Korneliussen, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson lights up London’s Tate Modern, Blog by Mia bennett

Norway: Walt Disney Animation Studios to release Saami-language version of “Frozen 2”, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Russia’s Arctic culture heritage sites get protection, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden, Norway team up to preserve ancient rock carvings, Radio Sweden

United States: Set of Indigenous Yup’ik masks reunited in Alaska after more than a century, CBC News

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning 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 murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

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

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

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."

3 thoughts on “Project to digitize works from Inuit artists gets further grant from Canadian Heritage

  • Tuesday, August 4, 2020 at 09:39

    This should give greater accessibility to art. Digitization and technology have helped change the way we work and live and especially during the lockdown. I hope this amount gives them enough means to get this great initiative to happen. Easy accessibility to such arts can inspire many. Thank you for sharing this post.

  • Sunday, October 11, 2020 at 03:23

    Such a wonderful blog about project to digitize works from Inuit artists gets further grant from Canadian heritage and I appreciate your effort for bringing this in to notice. Great blog indeed, will visit again future to read more!!

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