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Beneath the mask

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Inuvik (July 16/04) - Amid the organized chaos of the Great Northern Arts Festival office -- four days before its 16th event -- artistic director Lynn Feasey multi-tasks, answering phones and greeting volunteers and arriving artists.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

This year's theme is the mask, a characteristic prevalent among all regions represented at this year's festival. - photo courtesy of the Great Northern Arts Festival

Around the office lies countless artworks and festival memorabilia, set to go on display and sale, making the space appear a kind of makeshift art bazaar with computer monitors poking out here and there.

"Some people say 'I bet you can't wait 'til it's over,'" said Feasey between ringing phones and bodies popping in and out of her workspace. "I say 'I can hardly wait 'til it begins' because when it does, the festival takes on a life of its own and it's wonderful."

Approximately 80 printmakers, photographers, sculptures, and multi-media and textile-based artists are scheduled to attend this year's event, some of which are coming from as far away as Greenland.

While Feasey has been involved with the festival for several years, this is the first time she has been at the helm.

Despite the ever-increasing pressure of making sure the show begins and ends on a memorable note, she savours every minute.

"This year's theme is the mask, something I'm fascinated by as it is the common link between all of the artistic traditions being represented," she said. "I wanted to find a way to connect the circumpolar theme, and I found it in the mask."

The task of bringing together such a diverse mix of talent and styles is no easy feat. However, Feasey feels she has achieved a nice balance. For this, she is pleased.

"But there are always disappointments," she said in reference to Cape Dorset printmaker, sculpture and throatsinger Qaanak Mikkigak, who had to cancel at the last minute for medical reasons.

"She's having knee surgery so personally I'm disappointed, as I really admire her work and was looking forward to meeting her."

However, there is little time to lament as Feasey must prepare to welcome artists such as Cape Dorset's 2002 Aboriginal Achievement Award winner Ohito Ashoona -- artist-in-residence at Toronto's Eskimo Art Gallery; Greenland mask-maker Gedion Qeqe; renowned Holman printmaker Mary Okheena; and master sculpture Bill Nasogaluak. All are on schedule to attend this year's festival.

And of course, the smooth running of a festival of this magnitude could not be done without the support of volunteers.

Alluding to Feasey's comments that the event takes on a "life of its own," Great Northern Arts Festival co-ordinator Jeremy McLeod says volunteers for the festival tend to multiply as things get underway.

"A lot of visitors who come for the festival end up volunteering," he said. "People come, see how amazing the festival is and want to get involved and be a part of it."

Opening ceremonies for the Great Northern Arts Festival begin Friday at 8 p.m. at the Midnight Sun Recreation Hall marked by the ceremonial carrying of the whalebone. Festival events continue through to Sunday.