A coming of age
Opening day smashes last year's records

Paula White
Northern News Services

INUVIK (July 23/99) - In one corner, a couple of artists are creating more masterpieces. In another, a group of artists sit in a circle, quietly savouring some muktuk that someone brought in especially for them.

This is the artists' area and it is one of the few quiet spots in the Midnight Sun Recreation Complex. Here, arts festival co-ordinators Marilyn Dzaman and Tanya Van Valkenburg could get away from the buzz of the gallery to sit, relax and take a much-needed breather.

When it's quiet, that's when it hits them.

"We're having a wonderful time," Dzaman laughed.

"It kind of struck me yesterday," Van Valkenburg continued, "that the festival has come of age this year, where things are running smoothly. It's not a bunch of crises that need to be put out one after the other."

Both Dzaman and Van Valkenburg attribute the fact that things are running smoothly to the record number of volunteers who offered their time to work at this year's festival.

"It's been really nice for us this year because this is the first time that we've had enough staff and key volunteers that we have actually been able to supervise and be around," Van Valkenburg said. "Marilyn spent all day Saturday and Sunday in the gallery talking to people."

"I talked for about 13 hours that day," Dzaman confirmed.

"You couldn't fall asleep that night," Van Valkenburg pointed out.

"I was still talking," Dzaman laughed.

Van Valkenburg and Dzaman proceeded to name a few of the volunteers who have dedicated their time to work at the festival. All are vital: from volunteer sales manager Karen Balanuik to Elaine Zimmer, a participating artist who always ends up volunteering in sales and packing, to workshop co-ordinator Jo Whiteside, to Martina Cardinal and her daughters Loretta and Roberta in the kitchen who have been keeping the artists fed and happy, to Letitia Byrch.

"She's been volunteering for many, many, many years," Dzaman said, referring to Byrch. "She puts in 12-hour shifts."

"She's at reception," Van Valkenburg explained.

"She is reception," Dzaman said.

That's only to name a few. Van Valkenburg and Dzaman have been especially struck by the number of children volunteering this year.

"This is perfect. This is what the festival has become," Van Valkenburg said. "The whole community, whether they're young kids or elders or whoever, is coming out and being a part of it."

The number of volunteers, however, isn't the only record that's been smashed this year. Starting with the totals from opening day admissions, which mark the first full day of the festival, Van Valkenburg said in 1997, $838 was brought in. That number rose in 1998 to $1,059. This year, it rang in at $1,443, which means more than 700 people visited the festival.

"That's coming through the door," Van Valkenburg said, "so you can see what's going on there."

In 1997, sales for the first day totalled $24,800. Last year, they were up a bit to $26,500. This year, they were a whopping $40,252. Van Valkenburg said things slowed down a bit on Sunday, July 18, but added that's typical of any year.

The number of people who attended the opening ceremonies on July 16 also broke records, so much so that Van Valkenburg and Dzaman couldn't believe their eyes.

"We have never had that many people," Van Valkenburg said. "I mean, it was packed."

One of the benefits of having such a successful beginning to the festival is that it means Dzaman and Van Valkenburg will be back again next year.

"As you know, we had huge financial worries (earlier in the spring)," Van Valkenburg said. "Everything sort of fell into place a week before the festival started. We were able to reach a point where we knew we were going to have enough money to keep the office open after the festival ended."

Keeping the office open means the two can begin planning for next year's festival.

Wait a minute. They already are.